Toyota said in 2011 it was developing an alternative motor for future hybrid and electric cars that would not need rare-earth minerals, while Nissan said it would try to cut back on their use and explore recycled materials.
The redesigned motor still uses the light rare earth element neodymium, which is found in North America and Australia, as well as China. About 80 percent of the global supply of these metals comes from China, and in the past, the country has restricted access to some of them for political reasons. The issue with the rare-earth metals that go into the making of electric motors, however, is real, and it could pose a threat to the forecasted expansion of the hybrid segment. The three motor companies made this decision after China chose to impose stricter export rules following diplomatic disputes with Japan.
Honda started looking to reduce the use of heavy rare earth metals 10 years ago, but a spike in prices around 2011 prompted the tie-up with Daido, the company said.
The automaker worked with Daido Steel Co.to develop magnets for the Freed minivan, which will go on sale this fall in Asia.
Honda called the development the world's first practical application of a high-performance hybrid vehicle magnet that doesn't require heavy rare earths.
Japan backed down. And despite Beijing's denial that it ever officially halted exports in the first place, traders were telling journalists shipments then magically resumed.
The motor is not completely without rare-earth elements.
Honda's new motor for hybrid cars is a very big deal
Carmakers use neodymium magnets because they have the highest magnetic force of any magnet.
Honda Motor Co. has discovered what could be a breakthrough in electric motors, freeing automakers from the high cost and supply limitations of rare-earth metals.
Electric vehicle motors operate at higher temperatures because they are the sole traction source powering the wheels.
Honda expects to deploy the new motors in other hybrid vehicles.
Daido Electronics Co., Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Daido Steel, has been mass-producing neodymium magnets using the hot deformation method, which is different from the typical sintering production method for neodymium magnets.
Until now, neodymium magnets have been used in several electronic devices including hard disk drives.