Fujitsu Recalling Sony Batteries

Company will recall 287,000 batteries due to overheating/fire risk.

San  Jose, California (AP) — The massive global recall of batteries made by Sony Corp. widened Wednesday as Japanese electronics maker Fujitsu Ltd. said it is recalling 287,000 laptop batteries that are at risk of overheating or catching fire.

The move brings the number of lithium-ion batteries being replaced worldwide to more than 7 million, according to the the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Fujitsu said the recall would affect 224,000 laptops sold outside Japan across 10 models, including the popular Lifebook series. The remaining 63,000 were sold in Japan. Company officials refused to describe the recall’s cost.

Fujitsu’s decision follows similar moves by other major notebook computer makers, with the first and largest coming from Dell Inc. at 4.2 million, followed by Apple Computer Inc. at 1.8 million. Lenovo Group Ltd. and Toshiba Corp. joined the recall last week.

Hewlett-Packard Co., the world’s second-largest PC provider next to Dell, stated Monday it will not be issuing a recall. The company said it reviewed its products with Sony batteries and found that the designs were not prone to the overheating issues other companies seem to face.

Dell’s recall, announced in August, came after six instances of overheating or fire involving systems with Sony-made batteries.

The risk of fire or smoke is low, said Julie Vallese, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. There were about 50 incidents of burning batteries reported in the past five years, while tens of millions of notebook computers were sold in the U.S., she said.

The risk stems in part from the manufacturing process. The batteries can short-circuit because tiny shards of metal are left in their cells during production, Sony said.

Spokesman Rick Clancy said Sony has added safeguards in the past few years — even before the recall started — to reduce the loose metal pieces, but he stressed that they cannot be eliminated entirely.

The investigation into the matter is continuing, and Clancy said Sony expects to issue an announcement within a few days to nail down the scope of the problem and the number of batteries affected.

Other factors, however, could also be causing batteries to overheat or smoke, said Vallese at the Consumer Product Safety Commission. How consumers use a laptop, such as leaving it running on a car seat in hot weather, as well as faulty power adapters could raise the risk of failure, she said.

The design and final product assembly by individual computer makers also vary and can change the risk, she said.

As a result, Vallese said this battery recall, the largest one in electronics, differs from others where a specific defect is typically the culprit.

“Here, a company (Sony) is saying that we haven’t determined that there is a problem, but we’re going to pull it anyway,” Vallese said. “And that’s why some companies are still trying to determine whether it’s worth it for them to be associated with this recall.”

Sony has been trying to overhaul its electronics operations under Welsh-born Howard Stringer, the first foreigner to head the company, and has found success in flat-panel televisions and digital cameras.

But a delay in the launch of its much-anticipated PlayStation 3 video game console and weakness against rival Apple’s iPod in portable music players has cast doubts on whether the maker of the legendary Walkman can regain its former glory.

Sony’s shares tumbled 3.3 percent to $37.81 on the Tokyo Stock Exchange on Wednesday, extending their losses from Tuesday, when they fell 2.8 percent. Sony’s U.S. shares fell 0.7 percent to close at $38.82 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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