Currently the electric motors used in cars such as the Prius and Hybrid Camry are dependent on what is known as ‘rare earths’ for some of their components. 97 per cent of the world’s rare earths come from China and Toyota is not happy that they are so dependent on supplies from a country that is not afraid to simply stop exporting important products, such as rare earths, simply to make a diplomatic point.
So Toyota has begun developing a new electric motor that does not require rare earths for any of its components. While no specific timeline has been announced by Toyota you can bet that work on developing the motor is preceding at a fast pace because Toyota is committed to the production of a number of new hybrid and all-electric vehicles.
And there could be an Australian angle to all of this too. While China might export up to 97 per cent of the world’s current supply of rare earths it only has around 30 per cent of the world’s rare earth reserves.
Australia also has reserves of rare earths but hasn’t mined them since the 1990s when China undercut it’s competitors and we might yet see a return to rare earths extraction in Australia as China becomes concerned about it’s dwindling supplies and the need for rare earths in other car makers’ electric motors increases.