By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
The rechargeable battery market is poised to enjoy a strong year of growth in 2005, powered in large part by burgeoning sales of digital cameras with their ravenous energy appetites. Plus, to meet the continuously greater demand for power in cameras and other portable electronic devices, manufacturers are raising the bar yet again for rechargeable batteries' capacity, while breaking new speed records for recharge times.
“There's a very strong trend toward use of rechargeable batteries throughout all classes of trade in the consumer marketplace,” said Christine Denning, marketing communications specialist for Secaucus, N.J.-based Panasonic. “We anticipate an approximately 16 percent hike in unit sales, driven by digital still cameras, handheld gaming systems, MP3 players and other high-drain digital electronics — and we expect the rechargeable segment alone to show growth in 2005.”
Digital cameras have been a key factor in swaying consumers toward increasing use of rechargeable batteries, since they offer the most efficient power source, Denning stated. Targeting that market, Panasonic is introducing a new 2300mAh nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) AA battery and Quick Charger System. The 30-minute charger features an LED screen to monitor charging and an alarm to signal when batteries are fully charged, and comes with four 2300mAh NiMH AA batteries, car adapter and carry case for a suggested $44.99.
Peter Brinkman, VP of marketing for Maxell, also points to digital cameras as a huge factor in sales of rechargeable batteries. “Digital cameras are clearly the biggest single category driving battery sales, and they will continue to have tremendous growth in 2005 — especially with the proliferation of new models and increasingly attractive pricing extending the appeal to a broader range of consumers,” he said.
“Having a second battery is almost essential to maximizing the use of these cameras, and we see a greatly underdeveloped opportunity for retailers to maximize the battery category through new merchandising solutions, which is a key area we'll be presenting at CES.”
Among the new products Fair Lawn, N.J.-based Maxell will launch at CES in Las Vegas in January is the AC 3000, an AC/DC power adapter/charger designed to power digital cameras during stationary activities such as uploading pictures to a computer. The universal adapter includes seven camera power tips that make it compatible with all major camera brands, and it features a retractable plug and color LED voltage and polarity indicator. Suggested retail is $39.99.
DigiPower is addressing the burgeoning digital camera market with a lithium ion 8000mAh battery back, designed for digital SLRs and scheduled to begin shipping in March. The Brooklyn, N.Y.-headquartered company also is introducing a 15-minute charger, plus a new version of its rapid travel charger that will feature accessories enabling consumers to adapt it to multiple battery form factors. The unit will ship late March at a suggested retail in the $29 to $39 range.
“We see the battery business continuing to be strong in 2005,” said Maurice Mizrahi, president of DigiPower. “Consumers are realizing that they need a second battery on hand for continuous shooting with their digital camera, and they want the convenience of faster charging. And because many consumers carry a number of battery-powered products with them, our new travel charger lets them take along one unit that can be accessorized to charge their camera battery, cellphone and other portable electronics.”
Taking recharging time to a new level is Sakar International, which is unveiling a new 8.5-minute Supersonic charger at CES. The unit comes with two proprietary-technology NiMH AA batteries that are engineered to withstand high current levels, last 10 times longer than their standard counterparts, and be recharged up to 1,000 times. Suggested retail for the charger with batteries is $59.99, and additional 8.5-minute charging batteries are available separately at $9.99 for a two-pack and $19.99 for a four-pack. The charger will charge standard NiMH batteries in one hour.
Sakar, based in New York, is also launching a three-way charger that includes four 2000mAh NiMH AA batteries, and charges in 45 minutes from either an AC, DC or USB power source. In addition, the company's new Digital Plus AC/DC Rapid Charger comes with four NiMH AA batteries, plus C and D battery size adapters that the AAs can be slipped into for use in devices requiring larger cell sizes.
A number of battery manufacturers are raising the capacity of their NiMH AA rechargeable cells for 2005, including North American Battery, which will introduce a 2500mAh battery in the second quarter next year, available in both battery packs and charger kits, according to Bob Roth, VP of sales and marketing. The San Diego-based company also recently launched one-hour and 90-minute charger kits under its Ultralast brand, offering more features at a value price below $19.99.
GE/Sanyo is also introducing 2500mAh AA rechargeables at CES, and it recently introduced 900mAh AAA cells to the market. Looking toward the third quarter of 2005, the San Diego-headquartered company anticipates hitting even higher capacities of 2700mAh AA and 1000mAh AAA cells, according to Paul Perryman, national sales manager.
“Rechargeable NiMH is clearly the fastest growing segment of the battery category, and we see that growing the market by about 20 percent in 2005,” he noted. “Particularly with high-drain applications like digital cameras, the goal is to get the capacity of one charge on a NiMH battery to equal that of the whole life of an alkaline, which is roughly 3000mAh. Considering that three years ago a AA NiMH was about 1600 and now we're at 2500, the technology is really getting there.”
GE/Sanyo is also launching a new 15-minute charger at CES, which will charge two 2200mAh NiMH AAs of any brand. It will come with four GE/Sanyo batteries, and has an estimated retail of $39.99.
Energizer will also offer 2500mAh AA rechargeable batteries for 2005, packaged with a new compact charger with sliding drawer that opens for charging and closes for compact storage and portability. Suggested retail for the charger and four 2500mAh batteries is $19.99. The company also is introducing a 15-Minute charger that does not require proprietary NiMH batteries to achieve the rapid charge. It comes with four 2200mAh AA batteries and sells for a suggested $29.99.
Providing a non-rechargeable option for consumers' high-drain devices, St. Louis-based Energizer will continue to promote its AA and AAA e2 lithium batteries in 2005. Lasting up to seven times longer in digital cameras than ordinary alkaline batteries, the e2 AAs allow digital photographers to take up to 600 photos versus about 80 with ordinary alkalines.
Harding Energy is targeting international travelers with its recently introduced Quest World charger kit, which includes a charger; four Quest Platinum 2000mAh AA NiMH batteries; two Quest 700mAh AAA NiMH batteries; plus Euro, Australian and UK adapters — all for a suggested $19.98. The Norton Shores, Mich.-headquartered company also has launched an affordable Quest 2 Hour Rapid Charger kit, which comes with four 2000mAh AA NiMH batteries and AC and auto adapters, designed to retail for $19.98.
Rayovacwill continue to improve the performance of its alkaline product and will promote its 15-minute rechargeable systems in 2005. Running through May, the Madison, Wis.-based company is running a sweepstakes promotion with Sony, with prizes including a plasma home theater system and other television and audio products, as well as $5 gift certificates with Rayovac battery purchases good toward Sony music and DVDs. Additional promotions will offer consumers free music downloads from MusicMatch and a chance to win RCA MP3 players.
Gentec International will be introducing a variety of lithium-ion replacement batteries for the newest Canon, Olympus, Panasonic and Sony devices, and will also preview new Optex Campower 30-minute, one-hour, and two-hour battery charger kits at CES, scheduled to ship in the spring of 2005. Addressing the trend to higher-capacity batteries, the Markham, Ontario-based Gentec also will introduce new 2500mAh AA batteries as a stand-alone four-pack and in charger kits.
“The major trends for the first half of 2005 affecting the AA/AAA rechargeable category are higher capacities and faster chargers,” says Karen Bennett-Carroll, product manager. “This will mean that 2500mAh- and 2600mAh-capacity batteries and 30-minute chargers will be the focus for new product introductions.”
Craig Taylor, CEO and president of Uniross Batteries, agrees, noting that the Woburn, Mass.-based company will be introducing a higher capacity battery as well as a new 15-minute LCD charger at CES, along with other new products to be announced.
“We're developing products based not only on speed and capacity, but that meet needs for specific uses, such as travel, MP3s, digital cameras and other applications,” Taylor stated. “These solution-based products will expand on the success of our GlobeTrotter travel charger line and will meet specific tasks or needs built around consumer lifestyles or situations.”
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.