The future of tyres, according to Continental

Published: 2 April 2019 - 1:15 p.m.
By: Dennis Daniel

Continental’s evolution from a tyre manufacturer to integrated solutions provider is on track with the company’s multi-faceted investments in automotive technology and mobility solutions. Tyres will remain among the company’s top business divisions which include Chassis & Safety, Powertrain, Interior, and ContiTech. Continental’s ‘Vision 2025’ for its tyre division is to be among the top three companies of choice, globally.

Continental’s product development strategy for tyres revolves around continuous performance improvements under extreme temperature and pressure conditions. Continental’s tyres are put through an extensive testing process that also includes its fully-automated tyre-testing in-house facility in Hannover. The company tests and evaluates over 250,000 tyres every year under all conditions. These amount to more than 160,000,000 km in endurance and high-speed tests and evaluation of more than 250,000 materials.

For specific applications such as material handling, for example, Continental has developed the Port Plus compound for its V.ply port tyres. The compound extends tyre life by reducing heat generation and abrasion, the two primary causes of tyre wear.

Juan Uruburu Alonso, head of sales - commercial vehicles, Continental Middle East, says: “We are always looking for innovative ways to improve our tyres to provide the performance needed for the region’s tough terrains and challenging weather conditions. Most importantly, we also innovate automotive technologies for commercial vehicles, which significantly reduces the risk of tyre failure, whilst maintaining the value of the casing, and thus the retreadability.”

Continental seeks to push tyre performance limits further as the founding partner of the Extreme E series, a new electric vehicle off-road race that will be launched in 2021 in association with Formula E.

“We see a lot of opportunity to demonstrate how our ultra-high-performance tyres succeed in extreme conditions. This is a very new format of racing sports and drivers in this adventurous off-road series will experience how performance meets safety on no matter which ground. An important factor of this series will be to heighten the audience’s awareness towards current and future challenges such as climate change, the responsible interaction with our environment and the protection of important ecosystems. Sustainability is high on our company’s agenda and this aligns perfectly with the targets of Extreme E, too,” says Alonso.

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Juan Uruburu Alonso, head of sales - commercial vehicles, Continental Middle East

Sustainable alternatives to natural rubber

Since 2011, Continental has been conducting research into replacing natural rubber from the tropics with plants which can be grown at moderate climates. Continental has invested $39 million in setting up a laboratory in Germany to conduct research on the farming and extraction process of the Russian dandelion, a flowering weed which Continental projects will be a main component in future tyres. The Russian dandelion is less sensitive to weather and can be cultivated grown anywhere including land unsuitable for food production, unlike natural rubber that thrives only in regions around the equator.

“Should the tests yield positive results, we are planning to introduce the raw material into serial production within ten years, in order to obtain an increasing proportion of our natural rubber demand from the dandelion plant,” says Alonso.

Local focus

The company’s Middle East strategy involves expanding its local presence through partnerships, developing its Tier 2 and Tier 3 brands, developing tyre-related digital solutions for the local market, and supporting the Vision Zero initiatives of governments in the region.

Currently, Continental’s Middle East network comprises 40 importers in more than 16 markets. The company is strengthening its foothold in the region with a focus on Saudi Arabia. Recently, Continental opened its first office in Saudi Arabia, in Jeddah, through a joint venture with Almutlak Trade & Industries, Continental’s previous distributor in the country. To enhance local product and service support, Continental has opened its first warehouse facility in Jebel Ali, Dubai, which will act as a hub connecting plants in Europe, North America and South America with the brand’s distribution partners in the Middle East.

“Saudi Arabia has proven to be a key market for us since the establishment of our regional office in 2015. Saudi Arabia has a 12-million passenger and light truck (PLT) tyre market and close to a 3-million truck tyre market, providing us with great opportunities to expand our presence in the region. Our primary focus now is to support our partners in delivering the highest standards of service possible in each market with future plans to include training programs and planning conferences with our importers and retailers,” says Alonso.

Alonso elaborates on Continental’s competitive advantages in a price-sensitive market, such as the Middle East. According to him, end consumers and retailers in Middle East recognise German engineering as a strong argument for brand value.

“The value of our products lies in the innovation we apply in our manufacturing. There is no compromise when it comes to safety, quality and performance at Continental. We pride ourselves to be the only brand that manufactures tyres with German Engineering, produced in Europe for the needs of the Middle East. Offered in more than 60 different sizes, all products feature the latest technological advances for enhanced grip, handling and braking, and quieter and comfortable rides,” says Alonso.

“Our current product portfolio includes premium Continental tyres including our best performing tyres in the Middle East - the new Generation 6 range. We are also expanding other tyre brands within the Continental Group in the Middle East, such as General Tire and Matador. In the 4X4 segment, General Tire will see an upgrade this year with the regional introduction of new patterns from the General Tire Grabber range. The summer tyre ranges will be available in a total of 49 sizes for rims from 15 to 20 inches and covers a broad selection of vehicles from compact to mid-size and high-performance models. In the van segment, the Matador brand will expand its range of tyres designed for the Middle East, such as the Maxilla AP,” he adds.

Digital tyre management

Continental tyre solutions include digital management systems that can monitor tyre pressure and temperature remotely and in real-time to prevent tyre-related breakdowns. In 2019, Continental will launch a digital tyre monitoring platform, ContiConnect, in the Middle East. Designed to help truck fleets maximise efficiency and send alerts if tyre pressure deviates from a defined value, ContiConnect will complement Continental’s ContiPressureCheck tyre pressure and temperature monitoring system which was launched for buses and trucks in this region in 2018.

“The regional roll-out of the ContiConnect system comes in line with recent regulations issued by the GCC authorities to achieve maximum safety, preserve the lives of road users and reduce injuries from vehicle accidents, especially trucks. The system will help reduce overall fleet costs and improve road safety by ensuring the proper usage and maintenance of tyres,” says Alonso.

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The control unit of the ContiPressureCheck tyre pressure and temperature monitoring system.

One of the market acceptance challenges for such systems is that fleet operators in the Middle East generally procure tyres and telematics from different vendors who are specialists in their fields, despite several vehicle manufacturers offering bundled services. Continental believes this trend will change as customers become aware about the benefits of combining tyres with telematics and other products and services from a single, reliable supplier.

“It is true that fleet operators tend to procure tyres and telematics from different vendors. However, with ContiPressureCheck, we have an ideal system to align tyres and telematics, as it can be integrated with most of the available telematics providers. That’s why we have collaborated with some telematics companies and have already developed a significant degree of integration with fleet operators. This has proven that live monitoring of tyre pressure and temperature is a reality via telematics. These efforts will help fleet managers to increase safety, reduce costs and better manage their fleet, leading to what we call the lowest overall driving cost,” says Alonso.

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