At about the start of 2014, Panasonic shifted production of Eneloops for some markets (including Australia) from Japan to China.
The Chinese Eneloops have the same product code as the Japanese made Eneloops and are rated for the same 2100 cycles. The Chinese cells are rated slightly lower on capacity retention with a claimed 65% remaining after 5 years instead of 70%
When I heard about this change, I was immediately concerned that even though the Chinese made Eneloops were rated for the same number of cycles, they may not actually be as good as those made in Japan. Time for another test!
For this test, I took a pair of 4th generation Japanese made Eneloops and a pair of new 4th generation Chinese made Eneloops. I put one of each into 2 separate chargers and set them running with both charging and discharging at 2 amps. 20 minutes rest after charging and 10 minutes after discharging. The results of the test is shown below:
Please note that at the time of posting this, the Japanese Eneloops (shown in blue) are still running where as the Chinese Eneloops (in green) died quite a while ago.
It seems quite clear to me from this test that under these conditions at least, the Chinese Eneloops perform well below what the Japanese made Eneloops are capable of. These Chinese Eneloops have performed better in this test than the 1st gen Japanese made Eneloop that I previously tested, however, that may be due to this test being done over the cooler Winter months. The testing method also isn't exactly the same, so that could also have an effect on the result. It should also be noted that the 4th gen Japanese Eneloops tested better than the one in my previous test as well.
A while ago, I contacted Panasonic Australia to confirm that the Japanese and Chinese Eneloops are rated using the same testing method and was told that they were. Initially, I was told that the Chinese made Eneloops were just as good or even better than those made in Japan. When I pointed out that the Chinese Eneloops were rated for less capacity retention and asked if there was any situation in which the Japanese cells could work better, the response was less defensive of the Chinese cells and admitted that there could be some differences in performance.
About 2 weeks ago, I contacted Panasonic Australia again to seek a comment on these test results. I was initially asked to send through my results and asked for details about my testing methods. I sent those details through as requested, but initially received no response. After a couple of days, I sent a follow up email to see if my previous email had been lost to which I received an email confirming that my email had indeed been lost to the spam folder. In that email, I was told that my results would be reviewed at the start of the following week (now last week). I have received no further response from Panasonic despite sending them a follow up email.
I do understand that moving production to China, etc is quite normal these days, and I can certainly understand the reasons for doing so. What I really don't like is when companies move production to a country with lower wages and reduce the quality, but don't admit to it and continue to charge the same prices as they were before. In Panasonic's defence in this case, it appears that the reduced costs are actually having an impact on local pricing here in Australia. Previous 3rd generation Eneloops generally went on sale at Dick Smith Electronics for $20 for a pack of 8. Since the Chinese Eneloops have made an appearance here, they've been discounted to $15 for an 8 pack numerous times.
It's speculated that when Panasonic purchased Sanyo, they only acquired the Eneloop brand and the Japanese factory that produces Eneloops was sold off to a third party to ensure that there weren't any anti-trust issues that would otherwise block the purchase due to Panasonic potentially controlling an excessive proportion of the worldwide battery production capacity. There are still Eneloops being produced in Japan for some markets, but other markets are being sold Chinese made Eneloops instead. For customers in those markets, it seems that Eneloops are now only Eneloops in name.
Having said all of the above, I'm somewhat disappointed in Panasonic. I have a number of other Panasonic branded items in my household and have generally been quite happy with them all, but this is leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.