Motor Trend

Shortage of Rare Earth Metals Could Limit Hybrid Production
Motor Trend

No number of Toyota’s Harmony Floralscapes can change the fact that the automaker with the most successful hybrids might soon have a serious problem on its hands.

Slow battery output is already slowing Prius production. Now it appears a shortage of rare earth metals used in hybrid vehicles and other products could cost other hybrid automakers problems as well.

One of the rare metals in question is neodymium, which is used in the lightweight magnets in hybrids’ electric motors. Wind turbines and generators also use neodymium. To make the hybrids more fuel efficient, Toyota will need additional quantities of the metals for every vehicle.

China controls most rare earth production and is limiting exports, leaving companies to look elsewhere for the desired metals. A rare earth mine is scheduled to reopen in California, Reuters notes, but that’s not until 2012. There’s also potential in a Canadian site, but for now, it appears the search is still on for a timely source, as demand is expected to outstrip supply within just a few years.