Japanese Firms Ramping Up Automotive Aluminium Offerings

Two major Japanese metals companies are planning to expand their aluminium offerings to take advantage of the emerging trend in consumer vehicle lightweighting for improved fuel efficiency.

Kobe Steel is planning to spend approximately US$93 million to assemble aluminium plants in the United States and the People’s Republic of China. The plants will make extruded aluminium for use in automotive body parts like bumpers as well as frame parts. The plant to be built in the US and finished next year will be the firm’s first offshore integrated production complex. The Kentucky plant will merge the continuing casting process with the extrusion process in one facility.

The firm’s plants will turn out aluminium parts that are stronger than material currently used in automobile manufacture, but up to one-third lighter. According to the company, a Kobe Steel plant is scheduled to begin producing this material by year’s end. Overseas production is slated to begin by the end of the decade.

In an unrelated development, Tokyo’s UACJ Corp. is planning to build two production lines dedicated to manufacturing aluminium sheet for doors and other body panels. One of the planned lines, also to be based in the United States state of Kentucky, will be co-owned with Dutch aluminium firm Constellium. Both lines are planned to begin production by the end of the decade, at a combined cost of US$340 million.

Constellium and UACJ have an existing line that is expected to begin production this summer. The new line is expected to have a production capacity of up to 100,000 metric tons per annum. When the two new lines come online, the total output among all three is expected to be up to 300,000 metric tons per annum.

Japanese, American, and European automakers are expected to continue increasing the use of aluminium in vehicle production. Demand for the metal in North America is expected to balloon to ten times its current level by the end of the decade.

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