Earlier this month, we reported that China is expected to slash its first batch of rare earth exports by 11 percent for 2011, setting the limit at 14,446 tons. Automakers are concerned that a shortage in vital rare earths used to manufacture components for hybrid and battery-powered vehicles could hamper production levels of electric-drive models. To overcome this potential shortage, Toyota, the world's leading seller of hybrid vehicles, is actively developing an alternative type of electric motor that doesn't rely on rare earth metals.
Toyota engineers in Japan and the U.S. are working on an inductive motor that, in addition to reportedly being both lighter and more efficient than the magnet-type motor used in the current Prius, eliminates the use of rare earth metals. Development of this inductive motor is said to be at an "advanced stage," but Toyota is not ready to announce when, or even if, vehicles equipped with this advanced motor will debut. Instead, John Hanson, a spokesman for Toyota, simply told Automotive News (sub. req.) that:
It's a long-term approach. When you're looking at a geopolitical issue like rare-earth supply, that can lead to developments that create very good solutions.