Michael Dell: Exploding batteries are Sony's fault

In exclusive comments, the Dell chairman has laid the blame for the company's recent battery crisis firmly at the feet of Sony

Dell founder and chairman Michael Dell has denied that the way his company constructs its PCs played a part in a spate of battery-related fires and instead laid the blame entirely with the manufacturer of the 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 in New York on Tuesday.

Reports by Sony, that the way Dell integrates the battery cells into its PC designs made its machines more susceptible to problems than devices from other PC makers, were firmly refuted by Dell.

"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 have been affected by any problems.

Sony has agreed to help financially with the Apple and Dell recalls resulting from faults with its cells. However, a spokeswoman for the company 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," she said.

But Dell has maintains 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 pre-empted the rest of the market in recalling the batteries, and warned that other manufacturers may experience similar problems.

"We were out in front on this issue, we see this stuff faster. Maybe there are products out on the channel that could [have problems]. I don't see anything to preclude that," Alex Gruzen, senior vice president and general manager of 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 who sell through the channel, as they would have to trace and recall faulty batteries having not sold directly to customers.

"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," said Gruzen.

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 currently estimates that the overall cost of supporting the recall programmes of Apple and Dell will amount to between ¥20bn and ¥30bn. This is an estimate based on the costs of replacement battery packs and any related costs to be incurred by Sony.