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The Dell battery recall, one week later

We got on the phone today with Troy West, head of Dell's federal business, to learn what progress the company had made in replacing an indeterminate number of notebook PC batteries in use by government mobile workers. You'll remember that last week Dell issued the largest-ever electronics recall when it offered to replace as many as 4.1 million lithium ion batteries worldwide. The batteries included cells made by Sony.

Actually, according to West, the number of affected batteries in government is not indeterminate. Because of its direct-sales model, Dell knows quite well how many notebooks fall under the recall on a site-by-site basis. And where the company does work through systems integrators and small-business resellers, it's cooperating closely with those companies to get new batteries out.

Despite this insight, however, West told GCN, "We're not going into specific numbers." And as much as we tried, we couldn't get him to estimate how long the entire process might take. We also couldn't tease out solid advice on what a federal first-responder or similar mobile user should do about going out into the field, say tomorrow, if he or she couldn't wait several days for a new battery (heck, we're getting on a plane next week and need our own affected Dell notebook to work on battery power).

But West did ensure us that Dell is sending bulk shipments of batteries to high-priority customers in emergency response, homeland security and other areas. And if a hurricane happened tomorrow, Dell would get the batteries to FEMA even faster, just as it sent emergency PC shipments when Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast.

In fact, West said, Dell sent out its first bulk shipments within 48 hours of last week's recall. The Veterans Affairs Department received the first batch last Thursday. And Dell has sent 3,000 batteries to its parts hub in Kuwait for distribution to military customers in the Middle East.

Makes sense, since we doubt a Marine will log on to Dell's self-service Web site to get a replacement battery. "We know the self-serve replacement program probably isn't sufficient for all of our customers, so in addition to that self-serve capability, we're working to customize solutions for some of our defense, civilian and intelligence customers," West told us.

Still, West said Dell fully expects remote government workers who can't easily coordinate with a central IT shop to use the Dell Web site to order new batteries. In those cases, the company is working with the central IT departments to get the message out to its dispersed workers.

And Now Apple

Recalls happen. And while it sounds like Dell and Sony are committed to getting this right, we'll see how it plays out over the coming weeks.

And now, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, it appears Apple is in the same boat. The company today issued a recall of 1.1 million lithium ion battery packs, also made by Sony. Apple's recall applies to iBook G4 and PowerBook G4 systems.

According to the CPSC, "Apple has received nine reports of batteries overheating, including two reports of minor burns from handling overheated computers and other reports of minor property damage. No serious injuries were reported."

Like Dell, Apple has started out with a Web site to help customers. The site's really busy today. Be patient.

Posted by Brad Grimes

Posted by Brad Grimes, Joab Jackson on Aug 24, 2006 at 9:39 AM


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