It's not a secret that China has a near stranglehold on the world's supply of rare earth metals, but when President Obama spoke out against that country's control of the market today, the information probably spiked a bit on people's "is that true?" meters.
Speaking at the White House but with the support of both Japan (no surprise there) and the European Union, the President said that the U.S. is going to file something called a "request for consultations" with China at the World Trade Organization because China is limiting rare earth exports. This, of course, means that it is more difficult, more expensive or just plain impossible to make some parts for hybrids and other advanced vehicles (*ahem* batteries *ahem*) in the U.S. The president said that , "We want our companies building those products right here in America. But to do that, American manufacturers need to have access to rare earth materials, which China supplies. ... Being able to manufacture advanced batteries and hybrid cars in America is too important for us to stand by and do nothing."
Of course, there are other options. Potential rare earth supplies in Alaska or the Pacific Ocean could be accessed, for one. Also, if work to make electric motors like switched reluctance motors with no rare earth metals being undertaken by Toyota and a UK consortium led by Sevcon, among others, comes to fruition, disputes like this wouldn't be nearly as big a deal. But for now, it is, and it also happens to be an election year.