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Business trends

Japan's materials makers see gold in fast-changing auto sector

Mitsui Chemical, Asahi Kasei and peers tap expertise in car parts design

Japanese materials maker Asahi Kasei and electric vehicle startup GLM have jointly developed the AKXY concept car. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

TOKYO -- Japanese materials makers such as Mitsui ChemicalsToray Industries and Asahi Kasei, long viewed as lowly subcontractors in the automotive industry, are using their expertise in parts design, molds and advanced plastics to push automakers for a front seat in the development of electric and hybrid vehicles.

Mitsui Chemicals acquired ARRK, a well-known car chassis designer and mold maker, in January for about 30 billion yen ($274 million). Mitsui made the hefty bet on a business well outside its field of expertise, because the chemical company "can no longer survive solely by selling raw materials," President and CEO Tsutomu Tannowa said.

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