The world's largest seller of hybrid automobiles is reportedly working on a motor based on common and inexpensive induction motors found in appliances such as kitchen mixers that use electromagnets instead of permanent ones.
Toyota did not confirm what kind of engine it is working on, but industry observers say by using less magnets it would cut its demand for rare earths such as neodymium, mostly mined in China and used in hybrid and electric car motors.
Rare earths are key components in products ranging from flat-screen television panels to hybrid cars and China's curbs on overseas shipments have prompted complaints from foreign high-tech producers.
"The type of motor Toyota is developing would reduce our need for magnets," said Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco.
"Toyota is known for always trying to get more out of less, and the development of a new motor, or just about any environmental technology, is an example of such."
The automaker plans to introduce a fully-electric vehicle in 2012 and a hydrogen fuel cell powered one by 2015. The development of magnetless motors was "simply part of the evolution of electric motors," said Nolasco.
At last week's Detroit auto show Toyota unveiled new siblings for its popular Prius hybrid, introducing a brand new midsized wagon, a plug-in, and a compact Prius.