Toyota engineers in Japan and the U.S. are developing electric motors for their hybrids that don’t depend on rare-earth minerals like neodymium and dysprosium for their magnets. It’s an important development because over 90% of the world’s supply for these minerals come from China, and China’s government has been busy cutting export quotas, which is causing the prices to more than double. The short supply ends up increasing the costs of hybrids.
The new motors are a different type than the magnet type motors used now. The new design is an induction motor – it can actually be lighter and more efficient than the motor Toyota uses in its Prius. While there’s no word on when the new induction motors will be used in production hybrids, Toyota says that research is at an “advanced stage.” But as of now, Toyota is planning on introducing in 2012 a battery powered RAV4 compact SUV that will use a no rare-earth induction motor supplied by Tesla Motors.