Amazon suspends sales of some hoverboard models after reports of fire

A stall owner performing tricks on a Power Board, a type of hoverboard he sells during Black Friday in Austin, Texas.
A stall owner performing tricks on a Power Board, a type of hoverboard he sells during Black Friday in Austin, Texas. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES
Shoppers view a sales person on a hover board at the Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
Shoppers view a sales person on a hover board at the Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.PHOTO: EPA

Online retail giant Amazon has suspended sales of most hoverboard models on its Britain and United States websites, amid reports of the two-wheeled scooter bursting into flames.

Major seller of hoverboards, Swagway, said Amazon has started questioning makers about their safety standards.

According to reports, hoverboards from other sellers, including IO Hawk and PhunkeeDuck, have also been removed from Amazon.

The move comes after reports of a series of explosions, fires and injuries linked to the self-balancing, two-wheeled scooter that is gaining popularity around the world. The incidents involved hoverboard models of various brands.

In Singapore, hoverboards can be bought online or from resellers.

At least 11 reports of "hoverboard" fires in 10 US states are being investigated by a federal agency, said CNN Money.

"We consider this a priority investigation," Ms Patty Davis, a spokesman for the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, told CNN Money. "This is a popular holiday item and it's going to be in a lot of consumers' homes, and we'd like to quickly get to the bottom of why some hoverboards catch fire," she said.

According to the US Customs and Border Protection, the fires are possibly caused by substandard and counterfeit batteries used in some hoverboards.

The agency said it had seized 164 hoverboards with fake batteries or other counterfeit marks so far.

"They don't all look the same inside," said US Consumer Product Safety Commission chairman Elliot F. Kaye. "It looks like there might be overcharging, too many batteries stacked together in ways that lithium-ion batteries are not meant to be stacked."

Hoverboards are unregulated, which means that several companies are using different manufacturing techniques in order to make a generic model. This helps those companies avoid any intellectual property inquiries as they are shipped overseas to US consumers, Mr Kaye said.

Chinese companies manufacturing and selling budget models on eBay and elsewhere are a particular area of concern, said Mr Kaye.

"I think my hope would be it would at least allow us to feel like we discovered the universe of these products," he said. "On the back end, certainly we would want to work with the Chinese government."

Mr Jay Whitacre, a professor of materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, told Wired that "there is no way to tell when buying, since the catastrophic failure likely will not manifest until the battery is fully charged and discharged several times".

"This charging/discharging mechanically exercises the guts of the cell and typically provides the ultimate trigger for the failure," he added.

In a press statement to The Verge, Swagway's spokesman advises consumers to only purchase hoverboards from authorised retailers as an added precaution.

The US National Association of Fire Marshals recommends that consumers keep on eye on the devices while they charge, and that they should let the devices cool off before recharging them.