2014 was a very good year for Continental as a supplier of original equipment tyres to vehicle manufacturers, with sales to both European and Asian automakers contributing to the positive outcome. In Europe, Continental obtained additional approvals from manufacturers across almost all vehicle categories, from sub-compact cars to luxury limousines. At the same time, new deals were concluded in Asia, not least with local Chinese manufacturers – a first for Continental. The tyre specialist from Hanover offers a wide range of options for original equipment tyres and can develop matching solutions for almost any vehicle concept.
In addition to the long list of approvals among vehicle manufacturers, the high fitment rate for display vehicles at the Geneva Motor Show is testament to the popularity of Continental tyres: Continental tyres were to be seen on the display vehicles of almost all European manufacturers. Even the tyres on the highly acclaimed new arrivals in the sector, such as the Audi R8 e-tron, the A3 e-tron, the Mercedes V-class hybrid, and the VW Golf hybrid, came from the Development department in Hanover.
Same story on the luxury sedans from Rolls Royce, the off-road specialists from Land Rover, and the e-cars from Tesla. Less spectacular passenger cars were also fitted with Continental tires – Opel's new cars in the small and compact class, vehicles from Peugeot and Renault, including the new SUV Kadjar, and the new Superb from Skoda. In addition to the European companies, visitors interested in tyres also found Continental tyres in use by Asian manufacturers. For example, Hyundai put the new ix 20 and Suzuki the S-Cross on tyres marked with the horse.
For many years now, Continental has maintained a strong presence among European manufacturers. “We have cornered over one third of the original equipment market here,” says Karlheinz Evertz, who heads up worldwide original equipment activities for passenger and light truck tyres. “But that doesn’t mean we can meet every customer requirement almost without trying. On the contrary, developing the tyres for the various types of vehicle is invariably a major challenge that calls for every effort from our engineers.” As well as shipping original equipment tyres to automakers, Continental also supplies the aftermarket, be it through car dealerships or through the tyre trade. Many of the premium manufacturers have additional letters or symbols added to the sidewall of tyres that they have approved.
Continental’s products proved a success with the US automakers, too. Here the company meets around one sixth of the demand for original equipment tyres and, given the current buoyancy of new car sales in the US, Evertz can see “additional potential here for Continental.” Success stories from Asia are another positive development for the Hanover-based company. Here, Continental now supplies not only Japanese and Korean automakers, but Chinese manufacturers as well. Most of these products are manufactured at the Continental plant in Hefei, China. By producing ‘in the market for the market’, the company eliminates the expensive and complex business of transporting tyres to China from Europe or the US. “We are aiming to grow our business in Asia one step at a time,” explains Evertz. “We see attractive growth potential here too.”
Recent years have brought an ongoing rise in automakers’ expectations of their tyre manufacturers. “Where once, safety, handling, comfort, and mileage were the only things that counted, today low rolling resistance, puncture resistance, very low noise generation, and adaptation to powertrain and engine concepts have also come to the fore,” says Evertz. This led, for instance, to Continental developing ContiSeal technology for one major vehicle manufacturer, a system that enables the tyre to automatically reseal smaller punctures in the tread. Several other manufacturers put their trust in ContiSilent technology, where a special material inside the tyre ensures low noise levels in the vehicle interior.
Increasingly, the manufacturers are calling for easily identifiable marking of these special tyres. Audi, for example, has its tyres marked AO (Audi Original), while BMW tires feature a star, and Mercedes tyres bear the letters MO. Looking ahead, Evertz is expecting this trend to continue: “After all, for the manufacturers these markings are a means of profiling their own brand in the tire sector too, as well as indicating the various performance characteristics.” Evertz goes on to note, however, that “normal” car tyres for the aftermarket are as suitable as ever for universal use with the highest safety standards. The car driver, he says, cannot really tell the difference between replacement tyres and original equipment.