First publishedin ITS International
Continental has become a leading player in vehicle technology and telematics. The firm’s executive board chairman Elmar Degenhart describes to Jason Barnes Continental’s views on the ‘megatrends’ of the automotive industry
Strategic moves to diversify Continental
’s business from rubber-related products began in the late 1990s with the acquisition of ITT Teves and its brake business. This brought on board know-how relating to the then new electronic stability control (ESC) systems which today form an important part of output from Continental’s Chassis & Safety division.
The main idea at that time was that tyres, brakes and chassis control are all parts of the same equation, but acquisition of ITT Teves was but a first step, as Conti looked to follow the trend in the automotive industry towards broader ‘system competence’.
After buying Teves in 1998, the next move was the 2000/2001 acquisition of Temic, with its sensors and interior business, from Daimler
. Another major step was taken in 2006 when Continental purchased the automotive business of Motorola
(gaining its telematics systems competence) but perhaps the most significant acquisition of the strategy was that of Siemens
VDO in 2007. This completed Continental’s transformation into a comprehensive, integrated systems supplier with the skills necessary to address what it terms the ‘megatrends’ of the automotive industry: safety, information, environment and affordability.
These four megatrends will play significant roles in future vehicle developments, says Chairman of Continental’s executive board Elmar Degenhart.
“The safety megatrend focuses on protecting human life in ever more congested and predominantly private road traffic. Continental is developing products and solutions geared to preventing traffic accidents and their fatal consequences entirely. Active safety systems are playing an increasing role,” Degenhart says.
“The environment megatrend is pushing forward the development of new drive systems as well as new and innovative technologies for enhancing efficiency. The large savings potential presented by diesel and new gasoline engines mean they will continue to be the dominant types of drive systems for the next 20 years but we’re convinced that electric drive technology will make a major contribution to reducing pollution emissions in future vehicle generations.
“Continental conducted a mobility survey in 2011 which showed that people around the world are open to electro-mobility. In fact, the majority of drivers could easily cover all their mobility needs with electric vehicles that are already on the market but the electric powertrain will not prevail until lithium-ion batteries fall substantially in cost. At present, an electric vehicle costs up to €10,000 more than a standard vehicle and that’s simply not acceptable to consumers.
“Insufficient networking of vehicles is also unacceptable. Growing demands of drivers in terms of operability, functionality and safety, and the trend towards e-mobility are upping the importance of the information megatrend – management of data in modern vehicles. The car is no longer an isolated shell, it’s an intricately networked system inside and out. In other words, what happens inside and outside the car is less a matter of isolated coincidences and misjudgments but increasingly the product of intelligent networking.
“And ultimately, it is a matter of shaping individual mobility such that it is affordable for everyone in the world. ‘Affordable cars’ is a megatrend that is being driven by growing demands for individual mobility worldwide. There is a clear trend: the number of low-cost vehicles will rise, with their share of total production climbing to around 20%. These are not lower quality vehicles. They use the latest technologies but are minimalist and tailored to the specific needs of their intended customers and regions.”
A strong focus for Conti is active safety systems – those which work to prevent accidents from happening. Dynamic high performance brakes, ESC, emergency brake assist (EBA) and advanced driver assistance systems in general are key technologies when it comes to further upping road safety. The expectation is that technology should provide the driver with effective help in all dangerous situations. Degenhart is especially energised by Continental’s new stereo camera approach to monitoring vehicle surroundings.
“This makes it possible to hinder – or at least mitigate the consequences of – frequently occurring accidents involving pedestrians or intersecting vehicles,” he says. “The stereo camera has two ‘eyes’, so it can clearly recognise obstacles and measure how far off and how big they are. This opens the door to a new generation of predictive EBA systems.”
Continental's Gifhorn plant produces externally excited synchronous electric motors for Renault's Fluence and Kangoo models, but such power will not gain predominance until lithium-ion batteries fall dramatically in cost, says Degenhart.