Charge and Catch Fire: A History of Exploding Batteries and Other Product Recalls

Editors' pick: Originally published Sept. 15.

Lithium ion batteries like the ones found in Samsung Electronics' recently recalled Galaxy Note 7 are praised for their storage capabilities and efficiency, which lead to longer lasting charges with smaller batteries.

But, as evidenced by the recent PR nightmare surrounding Samsung, the batteries pose a serious threat to consumers: they can catch fire. 

"Consumers should immediately stop using and power down the recalled Galaxy Note7 devices purchased before September 15, 2016," theU.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Thursday after Samsung reported receiving 92 claims worldwide that the device's lithium ion battery was prone to combustion.

The phone, universally well-received by reviewers, was released as Samsung rival Apple (AAPL - Get Report) struggled to live up to its record of innovation. Samsung said Thursday replacement devices would be available no later than Sept. 21 to consumers in the U.S.

Samsung is the latest in long line of manufacturers that have experienced issues with the relatively nascent technology that is still being perfected. The batteries have caused issues in everything from computing technology to automotive engines to cooling systems and affected companies including Tesla (TSLA - Get Report) and Boeing (BA - Get Report) , Sony (SNE - Get Report) to Hewlett Packard (HPQ - Get Report) to name a few have been affected.

Here's a look at some of the best-known cases of catastrophic product recalls, some of which also feature the dreaded lithium-ion battery. 

Apple is a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio Want to be alerted before Cramer buys or sells AAPL? Learn more now.

Toshiba Laptop Luminosity -- 2016
Toshiba Laptop Luminosity -- 2016

Japanese electronics giant Toshiba recalled lithium-ion laptop batteries made by Panasonic earlier this year. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said in March that the recall affected 39 models of laptop across 91,000 laptops sold in the United States and 10,000 sold in Canada.

While shares plunged to a low of ¥‎158 ($1.55) on Feb. 12, they've more than doubled in value since then, closing Tuesday at ¥324.10.

Hoverboards Burst -- 2015
Hoverboards Burst -- 2015

The lithium-powered scooter-like gadgets, which exploded in popularity in 2015, were also plagued by reports of actual explosions and fires. The CPSC said that the devices "pose an unreasonable risk of fire" and fail to meet safety standards.

Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) and Target (TGT - Get Report) stopped selling hoverboards in response, while most major airlines, including United Continental (UAL - Get Report) , Delta Air Lines (DAL - Get Report) , American Airlines (AAL) , JetBlue Airways (JBLU - Get Report) and Southwest Airlines (LUV - Get Report) have banned the devices. Quartz reported in December that sales of the hoverboard, which are mainly made in China, have plummeted since the safety concerns arose. 

Boeing's Dreamliner Nightmare -- 2016
Boeing's Dreamliner Nightmare -- 2016

Boeing's (BA - Get Report) 787 Dreamliner fleet was grounded in 2013 due to lithium-iron battery fires. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that Boeing's "safety assessment of the battery" was "insufficient," and the flaws were "not thoroughly scrutinized by Boeing and FAA engineers, ultimately allowing this safety hazard to go undetected by the certification process." As of May, Boeing had spent about $30 billion on Dreamliner production and had not yet recouped the cost, selling 1,154, below the anticipated 1,300.

Tesla Model S Tragedy -- 2013-2016
Tesla Model S Tragedy -- 2013-2016

Tesla (TSLA - Get Report) also experienced several lithium-ion battery-related fires in its Model S vehicles in 2013. The automaker added a new three-layer shield to its battery packs to reduce the risk.

The automaker has since recovered from the initial battery fires but questions still remain. A Model S caught fire during a test drive in France last month, which Tesla attributed to an "improperly tightened" connection. In January, a Model S burned down at a charging station in Gjerstad, Norway; Tesla said the fire was caused by a short-circuit in the car's distribution box. 

Sony's Dell Debacle -- 2006
Sony's Dell Debacle -- 2006

In 2006, Sony (SNE - Get Report) recalled millions of lithium-ion battery packs after several caught fire, including those found in Dell laptops. The company estimated that the recall and scandal cut its earnings for that quarter by $430 million. However, Sony hinted that the problem lay not with its own products, but with Dell improperly setting the batteries up to recharge. 

Ten years later, HP (HPQ - Get Report) had to do the same, recalling over 40,000 batteries from HP, Compaq, HP ProBook, HP ENVY, Compaq Presario and HP Pavilion notebook computers sold between March 2013 and August 2015.

E-cigs Ignitions -- 2015
E-cigs Ignitions -- 2015

As electronic cigarettes became more popular, the devices' safety was called into question, with some people reporting that the cigarettes spontaneously exploded due to, you guessed it, their lithium-ion batteries. In October 2015, the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration banned plane passengers from carrying battery-powered e-cigarettes in checked baggage and from charging them onboard planes. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer called the devices a "ticking time bomb" and called for an investigation into the fires.

E-cig sales are still strong, however. Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog pointed out in a note last month that sales increased 16% from mid-July to mid-August. Leaders in the category include Reynolds American's (RAI) VUSE e-cigarette and Altria Group's (MO - Get Report) MarkTen XL.

McDonald's, Wal-Mart Share Cadmium Conundrum -- 2010
McDonald's, Wal-Mart Share Cadmium Conundrum -- 2010

In 2010, McDonald's (MCD - Get Report) recalled 12 million $2 glasses promoting the new "Shrek" movie because the CPSC found traces of cadmium. The same year, Wal-Mart (WMT - Get Report) recalled about 55,000 Miley Cyrus necklaces tainted with cadmium. McDonald's shares barely budged, with the CPSC pointing out that the fast food giant was responding proactively to cadmium exposure far lower than that from the Miley Cyrus necklaces.

In contrast, in an AP investigation, Wal-Mart continued to stock the necklaces despite the presence of a known carcinogen. The company said it would "actively participate in the Consumer Product Safety Commission's review, along with suppliers and industry associations, to determine what standards should be established." 

Mattel's Lead Paint Melee -- 2006
Mattel's Lead Paint Melee -- 2006

The world's largest toy company, Mattel (MAT - Get Report) , recalled about 20 million Polly Pocket- and Barbie-branded playsets during 2006. Roughly half a million were found to have been made with lead paint, while the remainder contained magnets that were easy dislodged and presented a choking hazard.

Mattel shares fell about 2.5% after the recall. In response, the company took out full-page ads in national newspapers and promulgated videos featuring then-CEO Robert Eckert explaining the recall from inside a computerized Etch A Sketch screen.

The Barbie maker's sales have recently slipped as the company has struggled to turn itself around after losing the rights to make Disney (DIS - Get Report) Princess toys to arch-rival Hasbro (HAS - Get Report) . 

Firestone's Ford Failure -- 2000
Firestone's Ford Failure -- 2000

Japanese tire company Bridgestone's subsidiary Firestone recalled millions of tires from Ford (F - Get Report) SUVs in 2000. The tires, which were implicated in an estimated 240 deaths and thousands of injuries, sported faulty treads that separated during use and caused cars to swerve or flip as a result.

The scandal cost then-CEO Jacques Nasser his job; he resigned in 2001 and was replaced by William Clay Ford Jr., the company's current executive chairman. 

Last year, Bridgestone lost a bidding war with investor Carl Icahn for auto parts retailer Pep Boys - Manny Moe & Jack. Pep Boys agreed to an $810 million purchase from Bridgestone in October, but Bridgestone failed to match Icahn's winning bid of $1.03 billion.

Advertisement