September 14, 2006 9:49 AM PDT

Dell: Exploding batteries are Sony's fault

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

NEW YORK--Chairman Michael Dell has denied that the way Dell constructs its PCs played a part in a spate of battery-related fires. He instead laid the blame entirely with the manufacturer of the battery cells, Sony.

"We know exactly why there was a problem. Sony had contaminated its cells in the manufacturing process," Dell told ZDNet UK at the company's Technology Day event here on Tuesday.

Dell refuted reports by Sony that the way his company integrates the battery cells into its PC designs made its machines more susceptible to problems than devices from other computer makers.

"The batteries were contaminated and were no good no matter what you did with them," Dell said. "We know the batteries, under rare circumstances, catch fire, (which is why we recalled them)."

Dell recalled the batteries last month after several of its laptops overheated and caught fire. Other manufacturers are known to use Sony battery cells, but only Dell and Apple Computer have been affected by any problems.

Sony has agreed to help financially with the Dell recall and another by Apple resulting from faults with Sony batteries. However, a Sony representative denied that the blame for Dell's battery cell problems lay completely with the Japanese manufacturer.

"It is the configuration. We use the same batteries in our Vaios, and have our own safeguards against potential overheating. Other manufacturers which use the same cells haven't come forward with any issues. On rare occasions, a short circuit can occur, but this is affected by systems configurations found in different laptops," the representative said.

Extra problems for small manufacturers?
But Dell has maintained that other laptop manufacturers may face the same battery problems that forced it to recall 4.1 million cells. The computer giant claimed that it preempted the rest of the market in recalling the batteries.

"We were out in front on this issue, we see this stuff faster. Maybe there are products out on the (reseller) channel that could (have problems). I don't see anything to preclude that," Alex Gruzen, general manager of the Dell product group, told ZDNet UK. "Maybe we're seeing problems ahead of the smaller-volume producers."

Dell said this may be more difficult to rectify for smaller manufacturers that sell through reseller channels, as those manufacturers, because they had not sold directly to customers, would have to take extra steps to trace and recall faulty batteries.

"We can identify who has the faulty batteries in a way our competitors cannot, because they sell through the channel," added Gruzen.

Gruzen added that the recall was progressing well but admitted the company had little control over any damage to its reputation following the battery problems.

"It's really up to you (the consumer), to be honest. Customers will have to decide for themselves. We're going to worry about what's under our control. We are executing the recall extraordinarily well," Gruzen said.

Jeff Kimble, European marketing manager for Dell, said that the faulty batteries were a problem Dell wasn't proud of, but that it was "proud of its response."

Sony said the recalls had arisen because of microscopic metal particles in the recalled battery cells coming into contact with other parts of the battery cell, leading to a short circuit within the cell.

"The potential for this to occur can be affected by variations in the system configurations found in different notebook computers," Sony said.

Sony currently estimates that the overall cost of supporting the recall programs of Apple and Dell will amount to between 20 billion and 30 billion yen ($170 million and $255 million). The estimate is based on the cost of replacement battery packs and any related costs to be incurred by Sony.

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from New York.  

Correction: In the original story, Alex Gruzen's name was spelled incorrectly.

See more CNET content tagged:
recall, battery, cell, Dell, Sony Corp.

15 comments

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This article, the short version
"It's your fault!" said Dell
"Nahah, It's your fault!" said Sony
"Well, your mom dresses you funny! said Dell
"I'm telling mom! Mom!" said Sony

Can't we just get along? Aparrently not..
Posted by thedreaming (573 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Can you say FORD/FIRESTONE??
Another lucrative business relationship beaten to death.

As with Ford & Firestone, Dell and Sony are beginning the blame game. They should just agree to refrain from blaming each other and just support the recall.

As an owner of an affected battery, I don't care whose fault it is, I just want a new battery. If they would just realize that, and make that happen quickly, everything would be fine.
Posted by JerzeyRich (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If a piece of electronics explodes...
It's more than likely Sony's fault.
Posted by SonicV4 (37 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No surprise as to Sony's response
I figured they'd publicly deny responsibility while at the same time publicly announcing the defect in the batteries. From what I see, they are picking up the tab for all costs incurred by both Dell and Apple, this should send shares down a bit for Sony, however $250M is only a drop in the bucket compared to thier yearly revenues.

Large impact for the media, but rather small impact for the rest of the parties involved including consumers.

It would seem the media makes a big deal out of everything, including a turtle getting stuck by a stingray's barb. Nothing to see here folks, move along.
Posted by Mr. Network (92 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oh well
Oh well, there goes a least one third of the money they earned from the sale of BMG music group to Vivendi's in Europe, to cover the cost of the cheap rubbish built Lithium Ion batteries, with the remaining profits fully committed in other projects, I guesstimate no profits for SONY Corp this year either!

Still, is does show that the company's mission statement is a about as good as the products it sells on the world market, and is somewhere down the sewer pipe of shonk!

Oh well, what's next, will the new PS3 remain glued to store shelves during the christmas sales period, or have a higher reject rate than the even dodgier PSP display screen?
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
PFFT DELL SUCKS
If anything dell sucks and im not suprised they wanna be a baby about this and blame it on sony

for 1

sony= good harddworking company and is succeeding

dell= crap not realy hardworking and is not suceeding and going lower because of the fires
Posted by jjshur93 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Three against one?
C'mon! If only one company was affected by the SONY batteries, then the blame could lean either way.

But seriously! Three companies... Count them: Dell, Apple Computer and Panasonic. Three companies - all of which use SONY batteries, are facing battery issues. I cannot for the life of me see three competitors create battery problems on their own.

It just seems logically impossible for three companies to mess up on batteries at basically the same time. It is SONY's problem in one of two possible ways: 1) The batteries are faulty. End of story.

Or 2) If the batteries are indeed good, then SONY must not be writing proper and accurate specifications on how to implement these batteries. I mean, if you write in the recipe to put the cake in the oven, set it to 70 degrees and leave it there for five days, you're just not going to get cake. Same thing with electronics: if you write bad specifications, you're going to get faulty equipment. The circuitry surrounding the battery is designed by the computer company, with its design based on the specifications provided by the battery manufacturer. If at any time the battery changes and not the specifications, that's grounds for a bonfire in the middle of your desk.
Posted by groink_hi (380 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Agreed
I once owned a Dell inspirion 5100 had a regular battery. Made a smell before it got hot. How do we know if those that did catch fire didnt start smelling before hand. Also your right it is too coincidental. I dont blame dell but sony. How do we know their other battries will not do the same.
Posted by acousticb1 (4 comments )
Link Flag
agreed part two
Dell replaced the old 5100 with another one that has not given me the same problem. I wonder if the other pc would have been under the recall. This is how things are.
Posted by acousticb1 (4 comments )
Link Flag
Variety of Factors = Blame Both
If you read the linked articles in the story, it makes it very clear that only a special combination of factors that Dell and Apple use to package and charge the cells has created the (VERY small) problem. I think it's funny that they are having to recall 5 or 6 million batteries because 20 or 30 of them have exploded. The most likely cause is not bad specs, but an unforeseeable problem arising out of a combination of untested packaging and charging techniques that Dell and Apple use.

So I guess that really means they are both at fault. Sony should have designed the battery better to safegaurd against all short circuits, and Dell and Apple should be using packaging and charging technology that the other group of major laptop manufacturers who are unaffected use.
Posted by HecticDialectics (38 comments )
Link Flag
safety net
sony's batteries are faulty

Dell failed to include any thermal triggers that might safeguard against battery overheating. Dell's model requires they build machines as cheaply as possible - they didn't leave themselves a safety net.

The real surprise here is Apple. It appears they're bolting some industrial design to a low-cost pimp rig. Good work Apple - you had us all fooled.
Posted by Hardrada (359 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Thinkpad too
Gizmodo reports thinkpad self-destructing at LAX.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.gizmodo.com/gadgets/laptops/gizmodo-reader-witnesses-ibm-laptop-catch-fire-at-lax-201115.php" target="_newWindow">http://www.gizmodo.com/gadgets/laptops/gizmodo-reader-witnesses-ibm-laptop-catch-fire-at-lax-201115.php</a>

Looks like Sony's bad year is going to get worse.

It is curious that DELL has to ask users to verify batteries. I thougth they knew exactly who had what, given their manufacture-to-order model (at least to the "first sale" level).

Also, I know there are counterfeit batteries in the market (chinese origin, I believe). Any sign of these being a problem too?
Posted by aritai (3 comments )
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Posted by lucifinil (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Is Dell a fly by night company after all?
How many companies make everything from scratch on their
own when we look around today? Especially, the business that
Dell got in and made itself so successful is assembling PC's
using parts made by various other businesses. So is every other
business including auto makers.

Bottom line is that it's Dell who is assembling them together and
is marketing with their big company logo on them. People were
buying the Dell PC's with confidence of the company's final
product quality.

Those big executives in the business today have no calibres or
postures. Is Mr Dell another big shot whose name became an
icon of American business by chance?
Posted by Parkmount (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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