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Rechargeable Batteries Take Charge In Power-Hungry Digital Environment

5/05/2003 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Rechargeable batteries and battery charging systems continue to make headlines in the booming battery business.

With digital cameras and other digital consumer electronics making increasing demands on power usage, battery makers have been increasing life expectancy of rechargeables, while recharger system makers have been lowering the time it takes to fully power up rechargeable batteries.

As CE hardware continues to upgrade power needs, the list of battery and charger makers expands in kind.

New to the rechargeables category in the United States is a line of batteries and rechargers from Uniross Batteries, a brand well entrenched in the European marketplace.

"At the core of digital cameras and camcorders lies the need for a dependable and optimal power source," said Craig Taylor, Uniross managing partner.

With rechargeables the fastest growing sector of the battery market — sales of 22.8 million units are expected in 2003 — the Canton, Mass.-based Uniross is introducing what it calls the world's only 2300 mAh rechargeable battery. Suggested retail for a blister pack of four AA 2300 mAh cells is about $17, with availability this spring. The cell joins the company's 2100 mAh AA and 750 mAh AAA SKUs.

The 2300 mAh battery, which provides the most economic and effective method for powering digital cameras and many other devices, said Uniross, is being complemented by the introduction of the Uniross-brand Ultra Fast Charger, which comes with four AA nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) 2100 mAh batteries.

The lightweight charging unit, has a suggested $30 retail for charger and four batteries. Charge time for 2100 mAh cells is one hour, 2300 mAh types charge in under two hours.

A new generation of Quest rechargeables, from Harding Energy, features the Platinum2 line of 2100 mAh AA batteries, said to offer 16.6 percent more power than its predecessor cells.

"Our Platinum2 line is a direct response to a digital camera owner's need for longer lasting, more reliable power," Steve Morgan, Harding's marketing and sales director said. The Platinum2 NiMH rechargeable AA cells will be available in the spring in 4-packs at a suggested $14.99 retail.

Users of Harding's Quest NiMH rechargeables are being offered a new 120-minute compact recharger, with retractable plug blades, ideal for travel. Called the Quest Compact Charger, it fits into a small camera case or pocket, and can charge both AA and AAA cells at the same time. Suggested retail for the charger kit from Norton Shores, Mich.-based Harding, with four Platinum2 batteries, is $29.95.

Panasonic is offering a new series of rechargeable battery systems designed to address the high energy demands of daily-use electronic devices, including an AA 1950 mAh battery that offers up to six times the power of premium alkaline batteries.

Suggested retails are $6.99 for an AA or AAA 2-pack, $9.99 for an AA 4-pack and $12.49 for an AA or AAA 6-pack. Six-packs are for warehouse clubs.

Panasonic is offering three rechargeable battery systems, including the company's first palm-sized, two-hour Smart Charger package, to address battery users' different needs and preferences.

Model BQ-390A/2K includes two AA 1950 mAh cells with the palm-sized, two-hour Smart Charger and convenient flip-out plug. Suggested retail is $24.99.

Model BQ-345A/4WK is considered Panasonic's "value pack." The system includes four AA 1950 mAh batteries and a six-hour charger. Suggested retail is $19.99.

For warehouse clubs, Model BQ-390ASB/8K includes the two-hour Smart Charger, six AA 1950 mAh batteries and two AAA cells that power up to 750 mAh. Suggested retail has not yet been set.

New from Gentec International are rechargeable battery products that include its CP2000 Optex Campower 2-Hour Charger. This unit charges 2000 mAh AA, AAA or 9V NiMH or nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries in two hours. Suggested retail is $69.99 for charger and four 2000 mAh AA cells.

Gentec's NM2000 Optex Campower 2000 mAh batteries will be sold for a suggested $19.99 a 4-pack.

The CP1850 Optex Campower Overnight Travel Charger, from the Markham, Ontario-based company, offers 110V/240V for travel overseas. It charges four AA NiMH batteries overnight. The charger, which accepts AA and AAA cells, has a suggested $49.99 for four 1850 mAh AA batteries, two foreign plug adapters and charger.

The CP1600 Optex Campower Overnight Charger is a compactly designed unit with 1600 mAh batteries, that charges four AA cells in 14 hours. It includes charger and four 1600 mAh cells for a suggested $29.99.

All Gentec rechargeable products will be available this June.

Battery charger introductions have come thick and fast in the past few months, around and since CES.

Rayovac, for one, will be offering a NiMH battery and charging system that will shorten charging time to 15 minutes or less. The Madison, Wis.-based company debuts its I-C3 technology, In-Cell Charge Control, that puts control of recharging into the battery, instead of the charger.

The Rayovac rechargeable system, which will start shipping in late summer, has a suggested $30 retail, and comes packaged with two AA 2000 mAh NiMH cells.

During the spring, Rayovac has been partnering with Nickelodeon Online in a Power Getaway Instant Win Sweepstakes. With this national promotion for specially marked carded and multi-card packages of Rayovac Maximum Plus alkaline batteries, kids have the opportunity to win one of three family vacations to Universal Orlando Resort.

GE/Sanyo, for another, has introduced its 1 Hour Super Quick Charger. Small enough to fit into a shirt pocket, the NiMH or NiCd unit fully charges two or four AA or AAA cells in 60 minutes. Suggested retail is $39.95, and by the second quarter of this year, the charger will offer a self-contained internal power hook-up.

GE/Sanyo products, made by San Diego-based Sanyo Energy (U.S.A.), also is planning to introduce 2100 mAh NiMH batteries, designed for digital cameras, in the early part of 2003. Suggested retails will range from $9.99 to $14.99 for 2- and 4-packs of AA and AAA cells.

Lenmar has made major additions to its Mach 1 SpeedCharger line. The Camarillo, Calif.-based rechargeable battery and battery charger maker is offering it Mach 1 Delta unit that charges 3.6V and 6V NiMH and NiCd camcorder batteries in under 45 minutes. The Mach 1 Gamma comes with four 2000 mAh batteries and has four charging slots for full charges in one hour or less. The Mach 1 Alpha lithium ion (Li-ion) charges camcorder and digital camera batteries in less than 30 minutes.

Suggested retails are $99.96 for the Mach 1 Alpha and Delta, and $49.95 for the Mach 1 Gamma.

Lenmar currently is running a cost-savings rebate campaign, where consumers will find a $5 or $10 rebate coupon in product packaging, depending on the product.

Energizer will continue to meet demands of rechargeables users, with a faster charger and an upgraded Digital Camera Power Kit. The St. Louis-based company will be upgrading its 1-Hour Charger to charge in half the time. The new unit will charge any two to four NiMH AA or AAA batteries in 30 minutes or less. The charger, at a suggested $19.99 retail, comes with four 1850 mAh AA batteries. Scheduled for August availability, the charger also can also be purchased without batteries.

North American Battery Co. (NABC) has introduced a complete line of its UltraLast batteries and chargers. These are performance-enhanced to deliver maximum power and longevity in AA, AAA, C, D and 9V sizes. Chemistries include NiMH and NiCd.

A new UltraLast charger powers up batteries in 1.5 hours or less.

Expecting digital camera sales to reach nearly 13 million in 2003, surpassing sales of film cameras, (Photo Marketing Association statistics), Maxell Corp. of America is debuting its Li-ion rechargeable battery, the DC 7465, for Nikon cameras. Suggested retail is $39.99.

The company's advanced Li-ion chemistry is formulated to provide a solution for the increasing high-power demands of digital camera batteries. "Sales of replacement batteries are soaring, in part because digital cameras are so easy and flexible to use that consumers are taking more pictures than they did with their conventional cameras and digital cameras have more features that demand more power," said Peter Brinkman, Maxell's marketing VP.

The new Maxell line includes seven models of Li-ion rechargeable batteries and a non-rechargeable primary lithium battery, that together are compatible with the majority of digital cameras on the market.

New models from the Fair Lawn, N.J.-based company, in addition to the DC 7465, include DC 3711 for Fuji, Toshiba and Kodak cameras at $49.99; DC 3790, for Fuji and Pentax at $39.99; and DC 3772 for Kodak at $14.99.

Batteries for cordless phones also are enjoying new introductions. Jasco Products, for one, is debuting a new 3.6V, 850 mAh NiCd battery. The GE-brand TL96400, will be available for 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz cordless phones. It can be used in Panasonic 2.4 GHz phones. Suggested retail for the TL96400 is $10.99, and it will ship in June.

The Oklahoma City-based Jasco, which recently has introduced six new battery models, expects more to follow. This ongoing supply offers retailers the most comprehensive line of batteries at a time of continued proliferation of new battery models that only add to retailers' balancing act of having sufficient turns, while, at the same time, meeting a large percentage of customers' battery requirements, said Jasco.

Gemini Industries, for another, is adding five new Southwestern Bell batteries for cordless phones. These will round out the Clifton, N.J.-based company's assortment that supports new introductions of 2.4 GHz and 900 MHz phones on the market.

Batteries making a spring debut from Gemini are the S60536, a 3.6V, 600 mAh unit supporting Southwestern Bells' 2.4 GHz expandable cordless systems at a $17.99 suggested retail and the S60543, a 3.6V, 800 mAh cell that fits Uniden's new 2.4 GHz phones for a suggested $17.99.

The S60538 is a NiCd battery that carries a $15.99 suggested retail and is a 3.6V, 950 mAh for Pansonic's new 2.4 GHz expansion phone sets. The S60542 is a 3.6V, 600 mAh NiCd battery at a suggested $9.99 retail that supports Uniden's 900 MHz phones.

Introduction of the S60544 battery in June will support all Southwestern Bell versions of the GH2400 2.4 GHz series phones. The battery carries a suggested $17.99 retail and is a 3.6V 600mAh NiMH cell.

A new, disposable cellular phone battery, called Cellboost, available from Compact Power Systems, is about the size of a postage stamp and plugs into popular cellphones. The battery provides about 40 minutes of talk time and about 40 hours of standby time. (See TWICE, April 21, p. 91.)

A new line of primary prismatic batteries is being introduced by Duracell. Called Prismatics, these units accommodate thinner and smaller digital cameras and digital audio devices.

One cell, for emerging compact digital cameras, is called CP1. The lithium battery is the first-ever, high-power lithium primary prismatic battery designed specifically for digital cameras, said the company. It has a flat, rectangular shape that allows camera makers the luxury of more diminutive cameras.

CP1 batteries offer device manufacturers a lower cost alternative to rechargeable batteries for their hardware and an opportunity to further segment their product line based on power solutions.

Suggested retail for single battery replacements packaged in blister cards has not been set.

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