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Reduced Rare Metals In Ford Hybrids Lowers Price Tag

In a push to streamline production and lower the cost of their third-generation Fusion and C-MAX Hybrids, Ford Motors plans to cut the use of rare and expensive metals used in their manufacturing. For people who didn’t know that rare metals were used in their production in the first place, this shift might not mean much, especially since Ford doesn’t specify how much less the vehicles will cost.  But for environmentalists who assert that a reduction in the cost of eco-cars means more drivers and less carbon emissions, the shift is a good sign. 

The transition from nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries to li-ion packs, which are lighter and more efficient, accounts for part of the shift. The NiMH batteries required the use of the rare metals neodymium, cerium, lanthanum and praseodymium. None of those rare metals are used in the lithium-ion batteries.

The rarest and most costly metal used in the production of the hybrid vehicles is dysprosium, used in the manufacture of magnets employed in the car’s electric system. Ford estimates they’ll use roughly 50% less of the metal in the new production process.

The total reduction of the uncommon earth metals is expected to total about 500,000 pounds.  Ford says the savings will allow them to expand production of hybrid vehicles in the coming years, as well as to put lower price tags on the vehicles.

Financial considerations aren’t the only reason that Ford is moving away from the rare metals in the production of its third generation of hybrids. The new li-ion batteries weigh about half as much as the former version, which is part of the reason the cars get better mileage at 47MPG.  They’re also 25 to 30% smaller and cost about 30% less to make. 

Another factor that plays into the reduction is the fact that 95% of the rare metals are mined in China, whose government exerts strict controls on the amount available for export.  Shortages of the metals can hamper vehicle production in the U.S. and lead to price increases.  

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