Battery Makers Key On Function, Boosting Power

By Penny Gill On Dec 22 2003 - 8:00am

Improved performance and increased capacity are among the ongoing trends that will impact the battery category in 2004, as manufacturers continue to address the ever-increasing consumer demand for portable power.

The continuing growth of digital cameras will be one of the key driving forces for a number of battery types, as will the rising sales of digital audio players, camcorders and personal video players, among other devices, said battery manufacturers.

To meet the power needs of all those devices, companies are rolling out new products in both the rechargeable and primary cell segments designed to offer longer-lasting, more convenient power options whenever consumers need them. Among the most prominent technologies are nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) and lithium-ion (Li-Ion) rechargeables, with new AA cells reaching 2300mAh capacities.

"Exciting new products and growth in the device market will continue to drive the battery market well into 2004," said Mark Bertolami, VP/global marketing for the Global Business Management Group at Duracell.

"The growth of digital cameras is one specific area that is definitely having an impact on the battery category. As prices decrease and the products become more consumer-friendly, digital cameras will continue to show strong growth. The sales of AA batteries will be boosted by this trend, as many of the digital cameras are AA-powered; while at the same time, heavy users, such as professional photographers, will migrate toward usage of NiMH rechargeables."

Bertolami also points to the growing popularity of slim digital cameras, which had relied on prismatic Li-Ion batteries, but which now include models that provide the option of using Duracell's new high-power CP1 lithium prismatic battery in place of the rechargeables.

Bethel, Conn.-based Duracell also will launch additional disposable alternatives to rechargeable batteries in 2004, including the LP1, an alkaline 7/5F6 equivalent, which will provide consumers with the convenience of alkaline power for the new generation of digital audio players.

"While rechargeable batteries are expected to continue to show solid growth, primary cells will continue to power most consumer devices," Bertolami added. "Furthermore, advances in screen technology, solid-state memory and processors will continue to reduce the power demands of many devices, favoring the role of primary batteries. In fact, many devices that today demand rechargeables, due to their appetite for power, will likely be conveniently and economically powered by primary in the future."

John Daggett, director of marketing services, for Madison, Wis.-based Rayovac, echoes a positive outlook for primary cells. "Research over the last several years shows that consumers are buying larger pack sizes in alkaline products. Research also shows that even though consumers are buying more batteries, they are still going to the store the same number of times. The bottom line is that consumers are buying more batteries because they have more battery-operated devices in their homes."

Daggett sees strong signs that the battery category as a whole is returning to its historical unit growth patterns of 5 percent to 7 percent annually, with a slight increase in dollar growth that should continue into 2004.

Tapping into that growth, Rayovac will be promoting products that it introduced in the fourth quarter of 2003, with its "50% more" alkaline packaging continuing to be a major thrust. In rechargeables, the company will spotlight its new 15-Minute NiMH rechargeable system I-C3.

A recently introduced 30-minute charger that will charge four AA or AAA batteries at a time is one highlight of the 2004 product line at Energizer. In addition, the company is upgrading its rechargeable AA cells to 2300mAh capacity, and packaging the batteries in a reclosable container for convenient travel and storage.

"Merchandising continues to be an important component for batteries," says Lou Martire, VP/trade development at the St. Louis-headquartered company. "Energizer is taking another bold step by introducing EnergiZone, a merchandising system that will showcase our performance brands, including Energizer e2 Titanium, Energizer e2 Lithium and Energizer rechargeable batteries.

EnergiZone will educate shoppers on how to select the right battery for their needs, under the banner 'Right Battery. Right Now.' "

In addition, Energizer is extending its line of 1.5-volt lithium batteries to include an AAA cell. This Energizer e2 Lithium AAA battery, making its debut in January at the 2004 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, delivers five times the power of an ordinary battery. It is said to offer outstanding performance in high-tech and digital devices in a weight that is one-third lighter than a comparable alkaline battery.

Larger pack sizes continue to be the trend in alkaline batteries, almost making obsolete the traditional 2- and 4-cell packs, according to Bob Roth, VP/sales and marketing for North American Battery Co. (NABC). At the same time, Roth expects a 50 percent increase in the company's NiMH battery sales in 2004.

"There are two major trends for rechargeable batteries — more power in each battery and faster charging times," he said. "Product development is focused on having the most powerful battery available at a price that consumers can readily accept."

NABC, based in San Diego, recently launched a 2300mAh AA rechargeable battery line, and expects to have 2500mAh available by the second quarter in 2004. Its rechargeable batteries and battery/charger kits retail from $7.99 to $29.99, while its UltraLast alkaline products retail for $2.49 to $9.99.

DigiPower is capitalizing on the exploding digital camera market with new batteries and chargers, including its recently introduced Ultra Fast Rapid Charger, which features a fold-away plug and built-in prongs for international use. Available in four models, the charger line accommodates 14 different kinds of rechargeable battery packs, including styles for most camera manufacturers, and allows digital camera and camcorder owners to recharge their batteries in as little as one hour.

In addition, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based DigiPower has also launched the first-of-its-kind Rechargeable Lithium Ion CR-3V battery and Quick Charger, providing camera owners an alternative to the high cost of disposable CR-3V cells. The QCK-CRV Kit, that provides a complete battery charge in under-two hours, carries a suggested retail of $49.95, with additional rechargeable battery packs retailing for a suggested $29.95.

"When you consider that a single disposable CR-3V battery retails for about $15, using our rechargeable version makes a lot of sense — especially since it can be recharged up to 1,000 times," said Mike Mizrahi, director of marketing.

Peter Brinkman, VP/marketing for Maxell Corp. of America, expects 2004 sales of branded replacement batteries for digital cameras to be a bright spot in the category as sales continue to soar.

"Today's cameras are so easy and flexible to use that consumers are taking more pictures than they did with their conventional cameras," he said. "That increased usage and the fact that digital cameras have an abundance of power-hungry, advanced features have convinced consumers that keeping branded replacement batteries on hand is a necessity. Maxell developed advanced lithium-ion chemistry for our line of replacement batteries to provide a solution to those demands."

Maxell's line also features consumer-friendly packaging, a strong on-shelf presence and a powerful brand name. In addition, the Fair Lawn, N.J.-headquartered company is recommending a dedicated digital camera battery planogram to its retail partners, and is offering them cross-referencing guides as an organizing tool for a complete digital camera replacement battery retail solution.

Making its debut at CES is Maxell's DC 3000 Lithium Ion Digital Camera Battery Charger, designed to charge all major manufacturers' batteries, including 3V and 7V models. With a suggested retail of $49.99, the DC 3000 includes AC/DC power adapters for use in home or car.

GE/Sanyo is also targeting the digital camera market with a high-performance assortment of rechargeable batteries designed for high power-demand applications. Within that segment, the company sees NiMH cells taking over market share from nickel-cadmium (NiCad) technology, according to Joe Carcone, VP/Sanyo Energy.

"Product development is also moving from alkaline to NiMH in AA and AAA sizes for consumer digital cameras," he said, "and photo lithium sales are seeing a downswing as well, with NiMH taking up the slack."

GE/Sanyo is introducing a new NiMH 2300mAh AA cell at CES, designed to offer superior performance and overall dramatic cost-savings over disposable alkaline batteries.

According to test results, the new rechargeable AAs lasted through 334 digital camera shots on an initial charge, while an AA alkaline cell lasted only 17 shots, Carcone said.

A tiny, new travel-charger also will be launched by San Diego-based GE/Sanyo for 2004. It fits in a pocket, will charge in four hours and is robust enough to handle the company's new 2300mAh NiMH cells. Available in the first quarter of next year, at a suggested retail of $19.99 for the charger and two AA batteries, the travel-charger will be offered in new fun colors.

Gemini Industries also sees NiMH cells continuing to make inroads against NiCad technology in 2004, even though the more cost-effective NiCad batteries maintain a strong market penetration.

"NiMH batteries are slowly taking share away from NiCad, more popularly in the replacement market," said Patricia DeCristoforo, product manager of phone accessories for Gemini.

"However, I have found that the original OEM batteries found in next-generation cordless phones, such as the 5.8GHz series, are still utilizing NiCad cells. Undoubtedly, NiCad still offers a cost alternative to the NiMH battery; but I believe NiMH's increased market share will take stronger hold as costs for the cells begin to decline."

For 2004, Clifton, N.J.-headquartered Gemini is adding a new Southwestern Bell battery to its lineup. The S60539 is a 2.4V 1500mAh NiMH cell that supports Panasonic 2.4GHz phones, which require more power to support features like built-in caller ID, answering machine, speakerphone and intercom. Debuting in January, the battery has a suggested retail of $14.99. A pair of NiMH AA cordless phone batteries also will be introduced in the second quarter.

In the laptop market, Li-Ion batteries are beginning to replace NiMH as the standard, according to Jason Trice, product manager of laptop accessories for Jasco Products. As a result, Jasco's universal laptop battery offerings will focus exclusively on Li-Ion products.

"Lithium-ion technology is an improvement over NiMH as it allows longer battery performance with the charge and overcomes many of the problems with battery memory causing degradation of the battery over time with repeated charges," Trice said. "Lithium-ion technology also allows longer battery life in a smaller form factor to maximize portability."

Among the new products Oklahoma City-based Jasco is introducing for 2004 are the GE-brand Universal Laptop Power Kit, featuring a universal Li-Ion laptop external battery rated at 6000mAh. The battery provides up to 10 hours of power over and above the battery life of the battery built into most laptops, and an LCD screen displays the percentage of battery power left, as well as the time remaining based on the rate the laptop is consuming power. Suggested retail is $299.99.

Jasco also is introducing two new GE-brand cordless phone replacement batteries for popular Panasonic 2.4GHz phone models. The TL 26413 is 3.6V and 750mAh, while the TL26423 is 2.4V and 1500mAh. Each of the NiMH batteries has a customized housing to fit only specific Panasonic phone models, and the two carry suggested retails of $14.99 and $16.99, respectively.

Karen Bennett-Carroll, product manager of the Imaging Technology Division at Gentec International , agrees the trend to higher-capacity batteries and faster battery chargers will continue in 2004. "As digital cameras and camcorders become more and more power-hungry, the battery industry must respond with higher capacity batteries," she said. "In an AA/AAA category, this will mean that 2200/2300mAh batteries will become more common. And in the digital camera/camcorder category, you will continue to see a trend away from NiCad batteries toward smaller, more powerful Li-Ion.

"Also, battery chargers will hit new lows in charging times, both in AA/AAA chargers and Li-Ion chargers," she added. "Cool running technologies are being utilized in chargers, allowing them to overcome the historical issue of batteries overheating and faster chargers. Changes in technology will ensure that faster chargers will become more prominent in 2004."

Markham, Ontario-based Gentec will introduce a number of new products for 2004, including a complete line of AA/AAA NiMH chargers. These Optex CamPower Rechargeable NiMH Battery Kits are specifically designed for digital cameras and other high-drain devices, and come in three versions.

The CP1600 is an ultra-compact charger that offers four high-capacity AA 1.25V 1600mAh NiMH batteries, and has a suggested retail of $29.99. The CP1850 is a universal charger that includes two foreign plug adapters, and comes with four high-capacity AA 1.25V 1850mAh NiMH batteries, for a suggested $49.99 retail. The CP2000 is a rapid charger that includes an AC adapter and automobile power adapter, and features timer-controlled circuitry to keep batteries topped off for maximum power at all times. It includes four high-capacity AA 1.25V 2000mAh NiMH batteries, charges two or four AA or AAA batteries in two hours or less and sells for a suggested $69.99 retail.

Panasonic will highlight its recently introduced up-to-2100mAh NiMH rechargeable battery system, which features what is called the smallest battery charger on the market, the Quick Charger, capable of charging two up-to-2100mAh AA NiMH batteries in only two hours.

The rechargeable system is available in three models. The BQ-390A/2K includes two AA batteries and a Quick Charger that accommodates up to four AA and two AAA batteries. The BQ-390A/8KC and BQ-390ASB/8K, specifically packaged for warehouse clubs, include six AA and two AAA batteries, plus Quick Charger.

Lenmar predicts continued market acceptance and growth for rechargeable batteries in 2004, based in part on the fact consumers are becoming more and more concerned with the environment. Within that segment of the battery market, the company sees Li-Ion remaining the proven chemistry for many consumer electronics products going into 2004.

Among Lenmar's new products is the FreedomPak for laptops, which will include either a 2- or 4-hour portable Li-Ion pack that will simultaneously charge the internal battery while powering the notebook. The company's Mach 1 power supply will rapidly charge the FreedomPak as well as power the notebook.

In addition, Lenmar will launch at CES a new angle on its retail packaging. The new packaging employs bright purple and yellow, and re-establishes a revised version of the company's icon flame logo, positioning the Lenmar brand as the cutting-edge battery manufacturer.

"In terms of overall trends at this point, the challenge continues to be driving maximum capacity into the smallest space," said Karie Miller, marketing manager. "There also appears to be opportunities for lithium-ion rechargeable batteries to replace lithium photo batteries."

The need to pack battery power into ever-smaller packages, enabling electronics manufacturers to continue their drive for miniaturization, is a key trend also identified by Keenan Hogg, director of marketing for Compact Power Systems.

In 2004, the Canoga Park, Calif.-based company will continue to promote its Cellboost product, an instant, disposable cellular phone battery that weighs just over an ounce. Cellboost features a sleek, compact design, and simply plugs directly into the charging port of most leading cell phone models to provide 60 minutes of additional talk time and 60 hours of standby time.

"We are extremely pleased with the initial acceptance of Cellboost by major retailers and consumers alike," said Hogg. "It provides instant battery power to a cellphone."

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