Dell issues largest safety recall in history: 4.1 million laptop batteries due to fire threat

“Dell is recalling 4.1 million notebook computer batteries because they could erupt in flames, the company said today. This will be the largest safety recall in the history of the consumer electronics industry, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said… the lithium-ion batteries were made by Sony and were installed in notebooks sold between April 2004 and July 18 of this year,” Damon Darlin reports for The New York Times.

“Dell said the problems were a result of a manufacturing defect in batteries made by Sony,” Darlin reports. “The safety agency said the batteries were not unique to Dell, meaning that other companies using Sony batteries may also have to issue recalls. Sony has sold its batteries to all the major computer makers, including Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba, Lenovo and Apple.”

“The recalled batteries were used in 2.7 million computers sold in the United States and 1.4 million sold overseas. The total is about 18 percent of Dell’s notebook production during the period in question,” Darlin reports. “Depending on how many are still in use, the cost of the recall could exceed $300 million. Dell refused to estimate the cost, but said the recall would not materially affect its profits. Sony, which affirmed that its batteries were responsible, said it was ‘financially supporting’ Dell in the recall.”

Darlin reports, “The current recall also leaves many questioned unanswered on how Dell, as well as the product safety commission, deals with information about fire-damaged notebooks. Although Dell told the agency that only six incidents had occurred, a reporter viewed almost 100 photos of melted notebooks that were returned to the company between 2002 and 2004. The photos, from a Dell database, were supplied by a former Dell technician, Robert Day, who said such damage ‘was more of a common thing than they are letting on.’ As many as several hundred a year were returned. Mr. Day said, ‘I did see so many pallets of stuff coming in that they had to use my lab for overflow storage.'”

“An Apple spokeswoman, Lynn Fox, said today, ‘We are currently investigating whether batteries that have been supplied to Apple for our current and previous notebook lines meet our high standards for battery safety and performance,'” Darlin reports. “The new Dell batteries, which the company hopes to distribute over the next four weeks, will be made by Sony and other vendors. Dell said it was confident that Sony had solved the problem by changing part of its manufacturing methods.”

Full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Woof-X” for the heads up.]

MacDailyNews Take: Ouch. 4.1 million is a lot of anything. As we stated in response to the Dell laptop fire in Japan: “Almost always, this is an issue of shoddily-produced batteries. Virtually every PC company, including Apple, have not been immune to such issues in the past. Hopefully, this will never happen on a plane (or anywhere else again). Generally, we’re of the opinion that as PC companies race to the bottom in a desperate price race, we feel much safer with Apple’s quality vs. all others as Apple is not dependent on operating on razor-thin margins that might affect product quality.”

Related MacDailyNews articles:
Another Dell laptop goes up in flames – July 28, 2006
Dell laptop fires may have been downplayed – July 22, 2006
Dell warns of earnings miss; shares plunge 15% – July 21, 2006
NY Times: Dell’s exploding laptop and other image problems – July 10, 2006
Survey shows big jump in consumer interest in buying Apple Mac; Dell takes steep slide – July 06, 2006
Dell laptop explodes into flames at Japanese conference – June 21, 2006
Time Magazine on Apple’s 13-inch MacBook: ‘Dell and HP should be very worried’ – June 07, 2006

33 Comments

  1. —“That’ll whack their bottom—–line.”—–

    Umm, Did you even bother reading the article? Sony supplied the batteries to Dell and Sony officially said it is “financially supporting” Dell in the recall..

    Sony also supplied batteries to Apple which may be defective.

  2. And to think the 2008 Toyota Prius is slated to use lithium-ion batteries.

    WTF is Toyota trying to do? Repeat the Ford Pinto?!?!

    FWIW the Wall Street Journal (8/14/06) has a front-page story on detonating batteries. Good reading for anyone with access to it.

  3. Umm, Did you even bother reading the article? Sony supplied the batteries to Dell and Sony officially said it is “financially supporting” Dell in the recall..

    Maybe things are OK financially, but Dell will still be taking a big dent in the public-image department. And when you’re a barebones bottom feeder, there isn’t much margin for hard hits.

  4. gman writes: “did I miss something or did Dell sell 4.1 million laptops in 3 months? DAYUM..that’s alot of PC’s…”

    Yes, you missed this: “the lithium-ion batteries were made by Sony and were installed in notebooks sold between April 2004 and July 18 of this year”

    More like 27 to 28 months.

  5. The staggering thing is that this problem was known to exist by Dell for many years before anyting was done bout it. They didn’t even swap out the batteries in their production line. Unfortunately for them, they’ve been caught out in the media, fanning the flames of this issue, so they’ve had to rethink before they got burned.

    Puns intended. Sorry.

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