Kobe Steel, Ltd announces that it will establish a company in the Xiqing Economic-Technological Development Area in Tianjin, China to produce aluminium sheet for automotive body panels.

The new company will be the first Japanese operation to produce aluminium sheet for body panels in China. Kobe Steel will supply master coils from its Moka Plant in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan. The aluminium will then undergo annealing followed by surface treatment and other finishing processes by the new company.

The company, Kobelco Automotive Aluminum Rolled Products (China) Co, Ltd, will be established in early 2014 and have a production capacity of 100kt/y. The wholly owned subsidiary of Kobe Steel will be capitalised at 450M yuan (about 7.5bn yen or US$73.5M). Total investment is anticipated to reach 1.15bn yuan (about 19 billion yen or $187.9M). The facility is expected to start up in 2016 and will employ about 140 people when it goes into full operation.

Currently, Kobe Steel has over 50% of the Japanese market for aluminium automotive body panels. In addition to developing original alloys and production technologies, which include heat treatment, Kobe Steel provides technical solutions on shape design and forming suitable for aluminium applications.

China is the world’s largest automobile market. In the next 10 years, automobile production is anticipated to increase by approximately 50%. Stricter fuel efficiency regulations in China aim to control the serious air pollution problem. As developing lighter automobiles is thus required, demand for aluminium sheet is anticipated to increase markedly in China in the coming years.

Kobe Steel currently supplies the Chinese market from its Moka Plant. However, automakers’ strong requests for a local source of automotive aluminium sheet led Kobe Steel to the decision to set up a production base in China.

In June, Kobe Steel entered into a technical cooperation agreement with Germany’s Hydro Aluminium Rolled Products GmbH for aluminium sheet technologies for automotive body panels. Following this, Kobe Steel’s plan to set up a base in China will strengthen its technical network for the growing demand for aluminium automotive body panels.

For aluminium forgings used in automotive suspensions, Kobe Steel formed Kobe Aluminum Automotive Products, LLC in the United States in May 2003. Kobe Steel subsequently formed Kobe Aluminum Automotive Products (China) Co, Ltd. in September 2010 to make the same products in China. Kobe Steel now has a production network covering three countries – Japan, the United States and China – for this product.

For extrusions and fabricated products, including bumper reinforcement parts, Kobe Steel and Sapa AB entered into a technical transfer agreement for Kobe Steel to supply Sapa with production technology for high-end aluminium extrusions. In this way, Kobe Steel is building a global supply network for its extrusions through Sapa’s worldwide locations.