Aleris plans first U.S. aluminum auto body sheet output in Kentucky

NEW YORK, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Aleris on Wednesday announced plans to invest $350 million to expand its rolling aluminum mill in Kentucky and start its first U.S. automotive body sheet production to meet burgeoning demand for lightweight materials in North America.

Once complete, the plant in Lewisport will have capacity to produce just over 200,000 tonnes per year of automotive body sheet.

Construction will start in the fall, with the aim of shipping the first sheet by early 2017, Aleris said in a statement.

The investment will include the addition of heat treatment and finishing capabilities, including a new wide cold mill, two continuous annealing lines and an automotive innovation center.

The move, which Chief Executive Officer Steven Demetriou mentioned in June, comes after Aleris completed an expansion of its rolling mill in Duffel, Belgium, which supplies Audi and Mercedes.

Competition is intensifying to supply U.S.-based automakers such as Ford Motor Co with more aluminum, which is lighter than steel, due to tougher emissions regulations.

Aleris will compete with most established U.S. aluminum companies, including Alcoa Inc and Novelis Inc, and new entrants such as Wise Metals Group. (Reporting by Josephine Mason; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)