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Dell to Issue Battery Recall

Times Staff Writer

Dell Inc., the world’s largest computer maker, acknowledged Monday that it would recall 4.1 million notebook computer batteries because they can overheat and sometimes catch fire. It would be the largest recall in the history of the consumer electronics industry.

Dell’s action will affect batteries in its notebooks sold between April 2004 and July 18, 2006. That includes 2.7 million battery packs sold in the U.S. and 1.4 million abroad.

The recall, set to be announced today by Dell and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, follows reports of the lithium-ion batteries overheating, and in rare cases, producing smoke and bursting into flame, said Jess Blackburn, a company spokesman.

He downplayed the damage the announcement would cause the Texas-based computer giant.

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“When you consider the 22 million notebooks that we have shipped in that time period, a very small number of batteries have been involved in any kind of incident,” Blackburn said, pointing out that the recall affects less than 20% of computers sold by Dell during that period.

He confirmed six incidents in which computers overheated in the U.S. and an undisclosed number abroad. The safety agency said no one has been injured so far.

People around the world who bought the questionable Dell notebooks will be able to call a toll-free number or log onto a consumer website to get information about replacements.

The recall, which comes three days before Dell is scheduled to report its second-quarter earnings, adds to the computer giant’s image crisis.

In recent years, consumers have questioned Dell’s product quality and customer service. Two weeks ago, a Dell laptop caught fire in Illinois, leading the owner to douse the computer with water. In June, a Dell notebook burst into flames during a conference in Osaka, Japan, prompting chatter across the Web. In December the company recalled 22,000 computers in the U.S. for battery-related issues.

Last year, the company absorbed a charge against earnings of more than $300 million to repair faulty computer components. In 2004, Dell recalled 990,000 recharger battery packs following reports that they overheated.

The same problems prompted Dell to recall about 284,000 batteries in 2001.

Other computer makers including Hewlett-Packard Co. and Apple Computer Inc. also have issued similar recalls in the past.

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Transportation safety officials have voiced concern about the danger of laptops exploding during commercial airline flights. These dangers were the subject of an article Monday in the Wall Street Journal.

The recall comes amid a slowdown in growth at Dell. The computer maker has struggled this year as rivals such as Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo Group, China’s biggest computer maker, have undercut its prices and gained market share.

Last month, Dell warned Wall Street that it would miss its second-quarter earnings targets, driving down its already battered stock price. The one-day slide in Dell’s shares of nearly 10% marked the most significant decline in six years.

The batteries involved in today’s announcement were manufactured by Sony Corp., among a handful of manufacturers that supply the majority of PC manufacturers.

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Shares of Sony fell 0.6% on the Tokyo Stock Exchange on Monday following news of the recall.

Sony dismissed fears that the problem could be an issue for other PC makers that use its batteries.

“We believe it will not affect our other customers,” Yoshikazu Ochiai, a Sony spokesman, said Monday.

He said the Tokyo-based company may have to share the costs of the recall, which some have estimated at more than $200 million.

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Dell’s Blackburn said his company would continue to do business with Sony.

“They remain one of our suppliers, so we are working with them to identify the problem,” he said.

In 2005, Apple Computer recalled 128,000 batteries for its iBook G4 and its PowerBook G4 computers. Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer Corp. recalled 135,000 batteries.

Blackburn declined to comment on the cost of the recall, but said it would have no “material impact” on the company.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Laptops at risk

What is Dell doing?

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The company is recalling battery packs for notebook computers because they can potentially overheat and cause a fire.

Which models are affected?

The following notebook computers shipped between April 2004 and last month: Dell Latitude D410, D500, D505, D510, D520, D600, D610, D620, D800, D810.

Dell Inspiron 500m, 510m, 600m, 700m, 710m, 6000, 6400, 8500, 8600, 9100, 9200, 9300, 9400, E1505, E1705.

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Dell Precision M20, M60, M70, M90.

XPS, XPS Gen2, XPS M170 and XPS M1710.

The batteries also were sold separately for $60 to $180, including to customers on service calls. Dell said the notebooks could be safely used on an AC adapter if the battery is removed first.

Where is more information available?

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Go to www.dellbatteryprogram.com. Owners also can call a toll-free number, (866) 342-0011, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CDT.

Each battery bears an identification number on a white sticker, which customers should have handy.

Sources: The Associated Press, Times research


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