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Currently, 50% of the company's domestic auto steel output is comprised of high-tensile grades – 30% of which is 590-780mPa and the remaining 20%, of grades of 980mPa and above.

“However, increasing light-weighting needs among automotive manufacturers means we have to raise both the volume of high-tensile steel as a percentage of our total auto steel output and, within that, also boost output of the higher-end grades,” a Kobe Steel official told Steel First.

He noted that car bumpers generally use 1,270mPa steel, but they are expected to use 1,470mPa material in future. Similarly, the current standard grade of cold rolled sheet used for car frames is 980mPa, but 1,180mPa grade is expected to become the norm in the years to come.

“We do not plan to actually increase overall production, just adjust it to meet these upcoming needs,” the official said.

He did not disclose what the company's total auto steel output is.

However, the company has lifted output of high-tensile steel at its sole overseas auto sheet operation, Ohio-based Pro-Tec.

The 50:50 joint venture with US Steel has started hot runs on a new 500,000 tpy continuous annealing line that will initially produce 590mPa sheet. It will eventually be able to produce 980mPa sheet.

Japanese automakers in particular are increasingly turning to higher-tensile steel as they look to make their models lighter in weight and more fuel-efficient without compromising on body strength.

Nissan, for example, said that it aims to use 1,200mPa steel in the production of up to 25% of all vehicle parts installed in its new production models from 2017.