Neodymium magnet for Honda Freed
A unit for the i-DCD drive motor, the world's first electric motor for hybrid cars that uses no heavy rare earth metals jointly developed by Honda Motor Co. and Daido Steel Co., is displayed at an unveiling in Tokyo, July 12, 2016. REUTERS/ISSEI KATO

Japanese automobile manufacturer Honda Motor Co. Ltd. said Tuesday it has created a hybrid car motor that does not use heavy rare earth metals with Daido Steel Co. Ltd. The two companies said the breakthrough made them the first in the world to create such a motor for use in hybrid vehicles.

Honda said in a statement that the new motor with a neodymium magnet, which boasts of high heat resistance properties required for use in hybrid cars, will be installed in the latest Honda Freed that will hit showrooms this fall. Hybrid cars combine a gasoline engine and electric motor for better mileage. Their popularity has grown in many developed nations but acquiring the rare earth elements to create them has been a challenge, reports said.

Deposits of heavy rare earth elements are distributed unevenly around the world. Honda said that the use of heavy rare earth metals carries risks from the perspectives of stable procurement and material costs. More than 80 percent of global production of 17 rare earth elements reportedly comes from China. These elements are used in everything from smartphones and electric cars to missiles. But, in 2010, China imposed restrictions on the export of rare earth elements leaving users rushing to procure lanthanum, cerium and other elements.

Reports said that other companies like Yasukawa Electric Corp., Mitsubishi Electric Corp. and Nidec Corp. created motors without rare earth elements to reduce dependence on China for supplies and to reduce costs.

Atsushi Hattori, deputy general manager at Daido’s specialty steel solutions department, reportedly said Tuesday that the scarcity of rare earth metals and uncertainty of China’s export policy are major concerns. With the latest development, Honda and Daido said they have become the first companies to introduce magnets with high heat resistance — used in hybrid vehicles — that do not contain any heavy rare earth minerals.