By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Increased power and ever-faster recharging units are two of the major product trends that will push rechargeable battery sales higher than ever in 2006.
Both rechargeable round cells and device-specific replacement batteries will see growth, manufacturers agreed, as consumers seek never-ending power for their expanding collections of portable electronic devices.
What's more, the market will see additional products that provide stand-alone, on-the-go power for recharging or device use, as well as new chargers that draw their power from a USB port vs. a standard outlet.
There also will be new technology introduced that dramatically reduces the self-discharge level of some companies' batteries for both improved shelf life and expanded rechargeable battery applications. A prime example of this comes from GE/Sanyo, which at International CES next month will unveil its new eneloop rechargeable batteries in AA and AAA sizes.
The low self-discharge, nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries ship fully charged and ready to use right out of the package, and retain 80 percent of their capacity after one year of storage and 70 percent after two years. Because of that feature, the new batteries are not only suitable for high-drain applications, but can be effectively used in low-drain devices such as remote controls, flashlights or radios. Available in spring 2006, suggested retail is $15.99 for four AA or four AAA.
GE/Sanyo, based in San Diego, will also introduce new 2700mAh AA and 1000mAh AAA NiMH batteries at CES, with four-packs selling for suggested $16.99 and $15.99, respectively. Also new is a USB charger, at $16.99 suggested retail, that will charge an AAA NiMH battery in any PC's USB port, as well as a primary lithium 9V battery, offering a 10-year shelf life.
“With digital cameras, MP3 players and cellular phones all being on the CEA's top 10 holiday CE gift list, rechargeable battery sales will receive a boost as people upgrade batteries or buy an extra battery for their devices,” said Paul Perryman, national sales manager for GE/Sanyo. “We estimate that rechargeable batteries will exceed 250 million cells in 2005 and continue to grow by more than 10 percent in 2006.”
Another company addressing shelf life is Battery Technology (BTI), which has engineered a new circuit board that increases the shelf life of its rechargeable notebook batteries. As Dave Sarazen, sales and marketing VP, explained, “After a traditional battery has been shipped, it can discharge so low on the store shelf over four to five months that it can't be recharged by a typical notebook computer. Our new circuit board design decreases the discharge process dramatically, so the battery can be stored for a year or more and still be usable.”
BTI, based in City of Industry, Calif., is working to be the first to market with replacement batteries as new notebooks are introduced, and all new notebook batteries from the company will incorporate the enhanced circuit board. In addition, BTI is offering extended life batteries for iPods for 2006, as well as digital camera and camcorder replacement batteries.
Decreased recharging times have been key in winning alkaline battery users over to rechargeables, and the time factor is trimmed even further by several companies' 2006 lines. Uniross Batteries, for example, an established market leader in Europe before entering the U.S. market in mid-2005, is introducing the Sprint 15-minute charger. Targeting digital camera users, the charger itself emulates the look of a digital camera and comes with four AA NiMH rechargeable batteries.
“We see a little bump in the number of digital cameras that is coming back to round cells,” said Craig Taylor, president/CEO of the Woburn, Mass-headquartered company. “Camera makers may be realizing that they're not in the battery business, so using round cells saves them a headache — and it's easier for consumers when they need to replace the batteries.”
Also new from Uniross are a pocket-sized travel charger, which comes with four 2300mAh AA cells and offers a four- to five-hour recharge time; a high-speed charger, which provides AA or AAA power in less than one hour; and a cordless Pro charger with retractable built-in plug. The high speed and cordless Pro chargers also include adapters for car charging, and a three-year warranty is offered on all products in the company's line.
Duracell is also launching a new 15-minute charger for rapid charging of one to four AA or AAA NiMH batteries. Packaged with four 2400mAh AAs, the charger will sell for between a suggested $27.99 and $39.99.
“The rechargeable [NiMH] segment of the battery category has been experiencing tremendous growth for the past several years, and is helping to drive the overall retail battery market,” said Kara Salzillo, brand communications manager for Gillette and its Duracell brand. “Over the past year, we've seen the cell portion grow by 33 percent on a dollar basis, and the chargers are growing even faster, at 45 percent.”
The growing number of digital devices for information gathering, entertainment and communication is driving the market for batteries, Salzillo noted, with digital cameras as one of the hottest battery-using CE items. Bethel, Conn.-based Duracell also is introducing a new PowerPix disposable battery specifically designed to deliver up to twice as many digital photos as standard alkaline batteries, with a $5.99 price point for four AA or AAA cells.
Lenmar is taking charging time even lower with its new Mach One MSC815, a unit that charges four AA or AAA batteries in just eight minutes. “The charger will charge any NiMH battery in 15 minutes, or our special Lenmar battery in eight minutes,” said Marty Goldberg, CEO of the Camarillo, Calif.-based company. “What's more, consumers can use it to charge the batteries at home or in the car.”
Also being unveiled by Lenmar at CES is a 2700mAh AA rechargeable battery, designed to retail for about $14.99 for a four-pack and $24.99 for an eight-pack, as well as new replacement batteries for the PSP, iPod and other MP3 players.
Maxell is introducing a couple of new chargers for AA and AAA rechargeables, and has also unveiled new packaging for its entire battery line that echoes the family look of its media and accessories products. The new packaging also reflects a new global battery case graphic design, highlighting the brand and making the polarity of the batteries easier to read.
“The battery market continues to be driven by the tremendous number of portable electronics products being sold,” said Don Patrican, executive VP at Fair Lawn, N.J.-based Maxell. “And at the same time, more and more people are going over to rechargeables — particularly when you look at digital cameras.”
Tapping into the camera market is Gentec International, which is adding three new chargers to its CamPower line of rechargeable battery kits. Featuring both an AC adapter and DC car adapter, the models range in recharge time from 30 minutes to two hours, and come with four 2600mAh AA batteries. The chargers indicate the charging status of each battery via either LED lights or an LCD display. Suggested retails are $49.95 to $79.95.
“For 2006, the major trends in the AA/AAA rechargeable battery category are faster battery chargers, the addition of value-add features and a focus on cosmetics,” said Karen Bennett-Carroll, product manager at Markham, Ontario-based Gentec. “There will be more 15-minute chargers available, but as increases in speed level off, there will be a focus on adding features, such as LCD screens, that provide charging status, USB charging and tones that indicate charging is completed.”
In addition to its CamPower line extensions, Gentec will target the MP3 music market with a new line of Energy-brand charger kits, and will also introduce new lithium-ion batteries for the latest Canon, Nikon and Panasonic electronics.
Jasco, which specializes in cordless phone batteries, sees that market continuing to grow at a 6 percent to 8 percent rate next year, according to Kent Shiplet, marketing and sales executive VP at the Oklahoma City-headquartered company.
“The popularity of the multi-handset phone systems will be a key driver for cordless phone battery sales in 2006,” said Shiplet. “We're also seeing a trend among several major retailers to pull back on the number of batteries offered in NiMH vs. NiCad [nickel cadmium], to lower retails and ensure a better ratio of replacement battery cost to the cost of the actual phone.”
Jasco constantly updates its battery assortment to support new phone equipment, and will introduce the model TL26420, compatible with Panasonic 2.4 GHz phones, this spring.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.