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Dec. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Kobe Steel Ltd., Japan’s fourth-largest steelmaker, said it will build a $400 million plant in Ohio with U.S. Steel Corp. to make lightweight sheets for fuel-efficient vehicles.

Pro-Tec Coating Co., a 50-50 joint venture of Kobe Steel and its U.S. partner, will begin production of cold-rolled automotive high strength steel sheet in 2013 with annual output capacity of 500,000 short tons, the Kobe, Japan-based company said today in a statement.

Japanese steelmakers, including Kobe Steel and Nippon Steel Corp., are expanding overseas as domestic demand stagnates. Kobe Steel aims to increase supplies to Japanese and U.S. carmakers as they compete to release fuel-efficient models by reducing vehicle weight amid a government push to cut emissions.

“Automakers are using greater quantities of high-strength steel in the overall automotive body structure,” Executive Vice President Ikuhiro Yamaguchi told reporters today in Tokyo.

Industrywide light-vehicle sales ran at a 12.3 million annual pace in November, matching the October rate that was the fastest since the U.S. government’s “cash for clunkers” program in 2009. Annual U.S. sales plunged to 10.4 million last year, the worst since 1982, after averaging 16.8 million from 2000 to 2007.

Pro-Tec Coating, formed in 1990, currently has capacity to produce 1 million tons a year, according to the statement.

Kobe Steel this week also agreed to form a technology tie-up with Steel Authority of India Ltd. and consider jointly making high-value sheets used in cars and nuclear power plants.

Shares of Kobe Steel gained 1.6 percent to 196 yen at the close of trading in Tokyo.

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