HP recalls 15,700 notebook batteries

Washington (DC) - The latest recall of notebook computer batteries issued with the help of the US Consumer Products Safety Commission affects Hewlett-Packard this time, and now more dramatically calls into question the safety and reliability of rechargeable battery components manufactured in China.

This morning's recall affects as many as 15,700 HP notebooks worldwide, including an estimated 4,100 sold in the US, with the Pavilion, Compaq, and Compaq Presario brand names. These models may include lithium ion rechargeable batteries with a manufacture date of January 2005, whose bar code label includes the prefix L3. These systems were reportedly sold by HP throughout that year. HP, which is cooperating with the CPSC, reported at least one burn injury and eleven cases of property damage, as a result of overheating batteries that can melt or burn their plastic cases. HP has established a Web site for customers who may need replacements issued quickly.

Today's is just the latest in what appear to be an alarming string of rechargeable battery recalls through the CPSC, all with a disturbing similarity: Last October, HP issued a recall of 135,000 notebook batteries manufactured in 2004, including for exactly the same product lines, and that the CPSC says were manufactured in China and Taiwan. Then in December, Dell issued a recall of 22,000 batteries that the CPSC says were made in China and Japan.

Then just last week, a company called Memcorp issued a CPSC-initiated recall of 102,000 rechargeable battery packs for various Disney-branded portable DVD players, after the company acknowledged 17 reports of units overheating, including three reports of personal injury and three reports of significant property damage. These packs were manufactured, according to the CPSC, by McNair Technology Co. Ltd. and Unitech Battery Ltd., both of which are based in China.

The Chinese president, Hu Jintao, commences a round of high-level talks with US President Bush today, at a time in which the Chinese economy is experiencing an unprecedented boom. With gross domestic product there rising during the last quarter by an astonishing rate of 10.2% - up 0.3% over GDP growth for the previous quarter - economists' concerns here are that new pressures should be put on China to put on the brakes a bit, particularly by raising interest rates there. To compel China to do just that, the issue of quality of exports could very well be put on the negotiating table; and the fact that more and more Chinese exports are reportedly causing personal injury may prompt the subject of rechargeable battery packs to merit at least a bullet point in upcoming talks.