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10/4/2006
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Dell Pinpointed Sony Battery Flaw Last Year, Records Show

Dell reported to regulators on Oct. 24, 2005, that overheating problems with Sony battery packs were under review. Initially, though, the company believed the problem was limited in scope.

Dell spokesman Ira Williams acknowledged that the Round Rock, Texas-based company identified the exact problem with the Sony batteries almost a year ago. But Williams said Dell had no way of knowing the full scope of the problem because some of the initial batteries that had failed did so early in their life cycle. It wasn't until more batteries began showing problems later in their life cycle that Dell realized it had a much bigger problem on its hands, he explained.

"The failure mechanism itself was different enough in December to what we saw in the last several weeks [before the August recall]," Williams said. "We diagnosed it [last year]. There was a trend. We really felt like we pinpointed it in December and went on with our lives, so to speak.

"That's part of what you could assume would be driving the scope of the recall back then," Williams said. "That's sort of an indication that, with Sony's insistence and our conversations with them, they were able to pinpoint ... a population to be isolated that we could diagnose and feel highly confident it was limited to that population of 22,000 units."

Dell's first recall was enacted under a "fast-track" provision in federal law that allows a manufacturer to report a problem to regulators and negotiate a response.

"Dell is not the only company to ever have an expansion or learn of additional cases after a recall," said Scott Wolfson, a CPSC spokesman. "The key is to always meet the reporting obligation. Three were additional incidents that occurred after the first recall that broadened the scope [of the recall]," Wolfson said.

Dell's original Nov. 10, 2005, report to the CPSC was not included in materials provided by the commission to CRN under the Freedom of Information request. CRN asked Dell for a copy of the report but has received no response.

In addition to Dell, Apple and Lenovo have announced Sony battery recalls with the CPSC, while Toshiba and Fujitsu have enacted voluntary battery exchages.

Last week, Sony announced it would work with vendors on a voluntary exchange program for suspect batteries. Wolfson said the CPSC is now in talks with Sony about formalizing a recall in the United States.

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