MANHASSET, N.Y. For decades, Sony Corp. has been synonymous with consumer electronics excellence. Well-engineered, attractive televisions, stereo equipment and in more recent yearsportable electronicsoften sold at premium prices consumers were willing to pay.
But in the world of laptop computers, Sony's reputation has been tarnished. Over the past two months, a mounting series of recalls involving laptop battery packs based on Sony's lithium-ion cells is presenting the Japan consumer electronics giant with formidable business and public relations challenges.
Four of the major laptop computer suppliersLenovo, Toshiba, Dell and Applehave recalled Sony battery packs after a spate of reported instances of laptops catching fire. The total number of affected laptops is well in excess of 5 million worldwide and growing as PC suppliers expand their recall programs.
So far, there's no hint that of tensions brewing between the affected PC suppliers and Sony. A Dell spokesperson said after news of the Dell recall surfaced that it would continue to work with Sony.
But the real test for Sony will come in the weeks ahead as it seeks to make good on its promise to replace the defective batteries.
Given the massive number of PCs and battery packs involved, how quickly can Sony replace them all? If customer response is overwhelming, will Sony be able to juggle production and shipping logistics among different lithium-ion batteries? Will Sony have to bolster battery production? How long will customers be willing to wait for replacement battery packs?
Although batteries are a relatively insignificant part of Sony's overall business, any missteps in the battery recall operation could further tarnish its reputation. More problems could also affect future design agreements with PC customers.
Sony has divulged few details of its battery replacement plan. But the company is going to need to step up to the plate and make sure it delivers on its promises. That will be easier said than done.
Sony's recent track record in the game market illustrates why there are doubts about how it will handle a massive battery recall. Sony has repeatedly delayed and is now scaling back the introduction of its long-awaited Playstation3 due to production and other issues.
At a Sony press briefing last Novermber, executives of Sony's U.S. operation predicted a bullish holiday season. But if issues like defective batteries and a shortage of game consoles aren't fixed, it's unclear whether Sony can revive itself, much less boost holiday sales.