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New Deals Let GM Shift from Foreign to Domestic Sources for Rare Earth Materials, EV Magnets


Two new deals announced Thursday morning will let General Motors shift to domestic sources for critical raw materials and key components it will use in the electric vehicles it plans to roll out by the millions in the coming years.

GM is partnering with MP Materials, which is building a new 200,000-square-foot rare earth magnet manufacturing facility in Fort Worth, Texas.

The automaker is forming “strategic collaborations” with California-based MP Materials and Germany’s Vacuumschmelze, or VAC, to supply rare earth minerals, as well as the finished magnets needed to power up GM’s new Ultium drivetrain technology. MP currently operates the only commercial mine in the U.S. producing metals like neobdynium, which are essential to energy efficient and cost competitive electric motors.

The two new deals are the latest in an expanding list of more than 10 partnerships GM has announced for its battery-electric vehicle program aimed at locally sourcing raw materials, parts and finished components. Currently, much of what is needed to make an EV must be imported, with China being a key source for rare earths and batteries, among other things.

“Our intent is we will have a fully resilient, sustainable, scalable and cost competitive supply chain for the entire value chain through a North American-focused supply chain to support all of our EV production,” said Shilpan Amin, GM vice president of Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain.

Auto company’s future plans

GM’s 255-kW, permanent magnet EV motor will be used for performance all-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive applications.
GM’s 255-kW, permanent magnet EV motor will be used for performance all-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive applications.

GM has repeatedly increased its planned investment in electric vehicle, as well as autonomous vehicle, technologies, jumping from $20 billion in March 2020 to the $35 billion figure announced by CEO Mary Barra earlier this year. It now plans to produce at least 30 all-electric models by 2025. And the longer-term goal is to completely abandon the production of internal combustion engines for its passenger models by 2035.

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The carmaker introduced its first long-range BEV, the Chevrolet Bolt EV, in 2016. It is currently in the process of delivering its next model, the GMC Hummer pickup, to customers and the Cadillac Lyriq SUV will follow in mid-2022. The rollout of new models will then accelerate, officials have promised.

The challenge for GM — and other manufacturers — has been to develop sustainable and reliable sources for everything from raw materials to finished parts and components. The largest of the domestic automakers already has confirmed plans for four U.S.-based lithium-ion battery plants, and has inked a partnership that will provide raw lithium derived from waters from California’s Salton Sea.

Shifting to domestic sources

Until now, much of the crucial materials needed for EVs, including not just lithium, but also cobalt, nickel and neobdynium, have been imported. Over the years, most of the mines in the U.S. and Canada have closed.

GM Ultium supply chain graphic

MP Metals continues to operate a mine in California, however, and will supply GM not only raw materials but also alloys and finished magnets that will be used in the Ultium motors powering vehicles like the Hummer and Lyriq. MP also will set up a new plant to produce magnets in Fort Worth, Texas.

The capacity of that plant will be supplemented by a deal with VAC. Details of that agreement have not been finalized, but the company said it will build another magnet plant in the U.S. specifically to supply GM. During the news conference, GM VP Amin left open the possibility the automaker may make a capital investment in VAC.

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VAC’s deep magnetic materials knowledge and extensive e-mobility technology expertise, in partnership with GM, will enable a cleaner global future for our communities, said Erik Eschen, CEO of VAC, in a statement.

There will be no investment with MP Materials. But the supply deal calls for it to eventually ramp up production to 500,000 motors annually. Exactly how may vehicles that would supply is unclear, as the GM Ultium platforms can use anywhere from one to three motors each.

All told, however, Amin said the two new partnerships should cover all the motors GM eventually will need for its BEV production plans.

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