Sony’s crisis over potentially flammable batteries deepened further on Thursday as US product safety regulators said Apple Computer was to recall 1.8m batteries because they presented a fire hazard.

The voluntary recall follows a similar move by Dell, which this month recalled more than 4m Sony batteries amid reports that they could cause computers to overheat and, in rare cases, explode into flames.

The recall applies to 1.1m batteries sold in the US and 700,000 batteries sold outside the US. It comes amid heightened concerns about the safety of Lithiumion battery packs commonly used in laptop computers. A number of videos and news stories describing fires caused by laptops spontaneously bursting into flames have circulated on the internet.

Apple said Sony batteries in some of its older models “had not met Apple standards of performance”. The recall did not apply to newer Apple computers containing Intel microchips. Models affected include Apple’s iBook and PowerBook laptops.

Apple said it had received nine reports of batteries overheating, including two reports of customers who received minor burns from handling overheated computers. Others reported minor property damage. No serious injuries were reported.

Experts say the overheating problem is due to a manufacturing error by Sony that introduced metallic impurities into some of its Lithium-ion batteries. Sony said the metallic parts may then intrude through the insulation, resulting in a short circuit that in rare occasions, “may lead to cell overheating and potentially flames.”

The electronics maker said on Thursday that it had introduced new safeguards into its manufacturing process to address safety concerns.

Sony said the recalls at Apple and Dell could cost the company Y20bn-Y30bn (€134.5m-€202m).

“Our understanding is that no further recalls are anticipated involving [products] using these battery packs,” Sony said.

Roger Kay, analyst at Endpoint Technologies, said: “This is really bad for Sony. It has already been shown that Sony is the root of the problem, that they’ve had a manufacturing flaw that is really inexcusable”.

Apple, with its sparkling brand image, might be in a better position to weather a big recall than Dell, which had been struggling against perceptions of poor customer service.

“Dell [is dealing with] a brand image that is already a bit damaged, whereas for Apple it’s a little dent in on a relavely shiny surface,” he said.

In New York trading on Thursday, shares of Apple fell 0.2 per cent to $67.17, while Sony’s American Depositary Receipts fell 2.9 per cent to $43.13.

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