Tesla’s Plans for Zero Rare Earth EV Motor Could Undermine Beijing’s Secret Weapon—Its Rare Earth Monopoly

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At its 2023 Investor Day presentation in Texas, Tesla revealed its plans to produce its next generation EV motor without any rare earth minerals. As a global leader in the electric vehicle market, Tesla’s plan for zero rare earth permanent magnet motors, if successful, could have a significant impact on the rare earth market—particularly China’s rare earth monopoly.

“As the world transitions to clean energy, the demand for rare earths is really increasing dramatically, and not only will it be a little harder to meet that demand, but mining rare earths has environmental and health risks,” said Colin Campbell, VP of Powertrain Engineering at Tesla.

“We have designed our next drive unit, which uses a permanent magnet motor, to not use any rare earth materials at all,” he announced.

Currently, Tesla’s Model Y uses three types of rare earth materials: approximately 500 grams of one, and 10 grams of two others. But in Tesla’s next generation permanent magnet motor, zero rare earths will be used, according to Campbell’s presentation.

Campbell did not specify which materials would be used to replace the rare earth components.

Tesla also stated that from 2017 to 2022, its use of rare earth materials in the Tesla Model 3 had decreased by 25 percent due to improved efficiency in its powertrain system.

Shortly after Tesla’s announcement to remove rare earths from its EVs motors, China’s largest rare earth supplier, Northern Rare Earth (600111.SHA), saw its stock price drop by nearly 10 percent as of March 10. The stock prices of two other major rare earth suppliers, China Rare Earth (0769.HKG) and Shenghe Resources (600392.SHA), also fell by 5.9 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

Compared with the traditional excitation generators, permanent magnet motors—especially rare earth permanent magnet motors—have higher magnetic energy product and coercive force: the ability to resist demagnetization. This makes them reliable and highly efficient. The energy conversion efficiency of rare earth permanent magnet motors typically reaches 90 percent, with the best achieving over 98 percent.

By Anne Zhang and Olivia Li

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