GE/Sanyo Looks At Battery Trends in 2005

By Jeff Malester On Jan 24 2005 - 8:00am

Acknowledging that it can't win a retail pricing war, battery maker GE/Sanyo said it prefers to hold battery-category leadership through technological performance, while catering to consumers who value product integrity, understand the company's battery benefits, and are willing to pay for these benefits.

In a wide-ranging TWICE interview with a trio of top executives at the Consumer Energy Products division of San Diego-based Sanyo Energy (U.S.A.) at the International CES earlier this month — namely Joseph Carcone, VP; Arthur Albani, sales manager North America; and Paul Perryman, national sales manager — GE/Sanyo emphasized its push for technology prowess.

The company cited recently shipped 2500mAh AA and 900mAh AAA nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries and a NiMH high-capacity charger that can power up two GE/Sanyo 2200mAh cells in 15 minutes. The charger also can power any four, AA-size NiMH batteries in 30 minutes. Looking down the road, GE/Sanyo expects to offer a 3000mAh AA battery and a 1000mAh AAA cell.

GE/Sanyo underscores statistics that show NiMH batteries are the fastest growing segment of the battery category, with over a 20 percent growth rate in the United States. Globally, the NiMH battery market in 2004 is estimated at 218 million cells, with 50 million in the United States. Driving this growth spurt is the emergence of more and more high-drain consumer electronics products such as digital cameras, MP3 players, cordless mice for computers, CD players and gaming.

One trend, said the three execs, is development of AAA batteries as an option in digital cameras for the current AA cells. This will allow cameras to downsize, they said, due to smaller space needed in the batteries compartment. At the same time, they said, AAA batteries would be more cost effective in such devices as iPods.

But all agreed that trends in lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries have taken center stage. Concerns about flammability, batteries burning and recalls of lithium-ion-tied cells can be traced to gray-market products. GE/Sanyo, along with other Li-Ion battery makers, is pushing industry standards that would pre-qualify companies that supply the cells. This is to ensure products going into the market have quality and integrity, eliminating problem retail or OEM batteries. In serving the aftermarket with Li-Ion batteries, GE/Sanyo said it is educating consumers about use of the company's cells, rather than pushing price.

The company does not expect chargers to generally go faster than the 15 minutes put out by its 2200mAh unit, even though it acknowledged one 8 1/2-minute competitive model currently being offered. Chargers are niche players in the marketplace, said the execs, and they expect ongoing interest in these products will not come from speed of recharging, but the design and style of the charger itself. Fashion will be the focus, especially marketing to women, they agreed.

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