Toyota developing alternative electric motor to cut its dependence on rare earth metals from China

Toyota is developing a new type of electric motor to cut its dependence on rare earth metals and lower costs, a company spokesman said Monday. The new technology will help free Toyota from relying on China, which produces 97 percent of the global output of rare earths needed for many high-tech products, including the current generation of hybrid gasoline-electric motors. Beijing blocked exports of the exotic metals to Japan after a diplomatic spat, and prices have soared as China gradually tightens its output. Analysts said production of such vehicles was still small enough that there was little short-term risk from a shortage of rare earths, but this could change quickly.

In November, China resumed exports to Japan of rare earths after a two-month de facto ban amid a diplomatic row over disputed islands. China has been gradually reducing the amount of rare earths it sends overseas. The U.S., Canada and Australia have rare earths but stopped mining them in the 1990s as lower-cost Chinese supplies became available. China has about 30 percent of global rare earths deposits.