The global push among carmakers to make ever lighter vehicles is leading some auto suppliers in Japan to turn to what seems like an unlikely substitute for steel — wood.

Japanese researchers and auto component makers say a material made from wood pulp weighs just one fifth the weight of steel, and can be five times stronger.

The material — known as cellulose nanofiber — could become a viable alternative to steel in the decades ahead, they say, although it faces competition from carbon-based materials and remains a long way from being commercially viable.