Tesla announced at its 2024 Investor Day event that it plans to bring an electric motor to market that requires no rare earth elements. While this may not be a very big deal to most folks, there are reasons it matters.
Most people who buy an EV probably don't even think about rare earth elements, much less even know what they are or why they matter. However, as EVs move into the mainstream, people lobbying against them will go to great lengths to cite their faults. There have been all sorts of EV myths and horror stories over the years, many of which were based on false claims but disseminated by people with an agenda to push back against the new technology.
In the case of rare earth elements, it would certainly be best not to use them. They are often expensive, difficult to come by, and sourced and processed in areas like China. As the US tries to move away from relying on other countries for material sourcing and processing, rare earth elements are certainly cause for concern.
There's already plenty of misinformation out there about EVs and the use of rare earth elements. Most often, the case against electric cars is focused on the lithium-ion battery, its potential for fire, the materials it's made of, how and where they're mined, and the list goes on and on. However, according to Electrek, while today's EV batteries do use critical minerals, they typically don't contain rare earth elements.
Rare earth elements are found in EV motors. Neodymium appears to be the most common and is used for strong magnets, which are present in DC permanent magnet motors. Other common rare earth elements in electric motors are Dysprosium and Terbium. Currently, Tesla uses such elements in its DC permanent magnet motors, but not its AC induction motors.
Tesla didn't start using the DC permanent magnet motors until the Model 3 came to market in 2017. The company shared during its Investor Day event that since the Model 3 first arrived, it has reduced its rare earth element usage by 25%, all while increasing the motor's efficiency.
Moving forward, Tesla aims to continue producing and using a permanent magnet motor, but it won't require any rare earth elements. The image at the top of the page shows the next-gen motor's "0" usage. Tesla also shared the following slide showing the current rare earths required for the motor in the Model Y: