In addition to supplying brake systems, powertrain and chassis systems and components, instrumentation, infotainment, vehicle electronics and technical elastomers, Continental AG ranks as one of the world’s largest tyre manufacturers. Matthew Beecham talked with executives of Continental AG about its tyre innovations, run-flats, EU tyre regulatory standards and TPMS.

just-auto: Run-flats have done a lot to improve vehicle safety yet come with a high price tag. Do you see technological evolution bringing run-flat and self-inflating tyres into the cheaper mainstream?

Continental: This depends not only on us as a manufacturer of tyres but on the automobile industry itself. To get cheaper versions of tyres with extended mobility technologies we need more cars produced with these technologies, not just a handful of manufacturers of mid- and luxury-class vehicles. On the other hand, we produce not only tyres with run-flat technologies like SSR [self supporting run-flat] tyres but other run-flat technologies as well, like ContiSeal or ContiComfortKit. So we have extended mobility systems over a broad range for nearly any need and application.

j-a: In addition to driver safety, the current focus is to find ways in which to reduce CO2 emissions. As 25% of all CO2 emissions are generated by road traffic and about 20-30% of a vehicle’s energy consumption can be attributed to tyres alone, measures to improve rolling resistance remain a top priority. Could you draw on an example of a recent tyre innovation which demonstrates how your company has reduced rolling resistance?

Continental: We do not only look [at] rolling resistance but [at] the combination with all safety-relevant improvements on tyres. Therefore we would speak about our tyre for the blue technology cars from VW and other companies that are equipped, for example, with the ContiPremiumContact 2. This tyre combines safety and low rolling resistance at a high level. We can produce this tyre because we know the car and its driver assistance systems, such as ESC. With this knowledge, we can combine short braking distances – even on wet roads – with a lower rolling resistance.

j-a: In addition to low rolling resistance, low tyre/road noise is a requirement imposed on modern tyres for environmental and economic considerations. Could you draw on an example of a recent tyre innovation which demonstrates how your company has reduced rolling tyre noise, perhaps highlighting certain new processes or developments?

Continental: Based on the upcoming noise regulations, the tyre type we have to focus on is the drive axle tyre. Rib tyres – which are usually used on front and trailer axles – are already noise optimised because of their tread design structure. Due to the special demand on traction, drive axle tyres have to follow a certain tread design which makes some additional noise optimisation necessary. Therefore we are working with the German road association, BASt (Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen) and some universities with the aim lowering these emissions. Within this co-operation we want to achieve a noise reduction of 3-4dB for certain tyre types in order to meet the new regulation.

j-a: In what ways will information on the new EU tyre regulatory standards provide a better service for the end-consumer?

Continental: We feel that consumers can be better informed about short braking distances, rolling resistance and tyre noise. And we expect motorists will find out that there is a general target conflict in short braking distances, low rolling resistance and low noise. The EU tyre label gives a short overview about the performance information regarding these criteria which is good – but it is still reflecting only three of more than ten tyre performance criteria.

j-a: In your view, what tyre regulatory information needs to be communicated to the consumer?

Continental: Based on the diametric physical target conflicts of very low rolling resistance and best braking results, consumers should be informed that these criteria depend on each other systematically – both of which cannot be maximised at the same time. Consumers should also be informed that the label is consequently relying on a self-certification procedure of the tyre industry. If one considers that we still find summer tyres without any winter performance but marked with the M+S-symbol, we all should make sure that the label information is declared according to the tyre performance. The other thing consumers should be informed about is the idea of regulating tyre noise.

j-a: Ultimately, I guess if the information on the tyre sidewall was easier to read, it could be a better method of communicating information instead of sticky pictogram labels which could be dirty, incorrect or even missing at the point-of-sale. Would you agree?

Continental: As the label has to be shown at the point-of-sale and not on the tyre itself we do not have this problem. On the sidewall a mass of other information is given – therefore the information in the label would not be easy to find for an end-consumer. If you consider a low-aspect ratio tyre, such as [a type with] 40% [ratio] the symbols would be that tiny that they could not be readable. Therefore it is the best way to show the information at the point-of-sale via any sort of technical promotional literature.

j-a: In the medium term, is RFID a better solution?

Continental: The idea sounds good but the data on the chip should be readable for everyone, at each point-of-sale. A data reader would be necessary at each European tyre dealer between Norway and Greece, as well as Portugal and Romania. We think that this is not realistic. And another point would be the question of who has to pay for this additional equipment? In the end, probably the end-consumer would have to do that when purchasing the tyres.

j-a: People talk of the ‘intelligent tyre’ as vehicles change. With newer forms of propulsion, in what ways will the tyre change and adapt to such technology?

Continental: Hybrid-driven cars need nearly the same tyres as cars with a normal gasoline or diesel engine. Mostly, the normal engine is supported by an electric engine. This saves fuel and minimises emissions. The speed and handling of these cars is similar to conventional vehicles.

Tyres for electric driven cars need a very low rolling resistance to enlarge the operating distance. We are working on this and – so we believe – are in a leading position. But we do not want to sacrifice the longer operation time to long braking results. We are working on this target conflict together with our customers in the automobile industry, and hope for good results shortly.

j-a: Now that legislation is coming in to make TPMS mandatory, the motorist no longer has to pay extra. What is the future for this technology? Do you think that indirect TPMS will become a standard feature of on future ESC systems?

Continental: As a member of the Rubber Manufacturing Association and ETRTO [European Tyre and Rim Technical Organisation], Continental has already been advocating short warning times and tight warning thresholds for several years. Derived from this, and with respect for our environmental responsibility, Continental is confirming its statement and recommends the direct measuring tyre pressure monitoring systems, Tire Guard.

j-a: As I understand it, TPMS technology is evolving to the point where one scenario could be this: As soon as the TPMS tells you that your tyre needs servicing, the nearest licensed service station will be automatically alerted through your car’s GPS, giving you directions to a site where qualified personnel will be awaiting your arrival. How far away are we from achieving this?

Continental: This scenario forms part of the focus on the so-called Intelligent Tire. Continental’s know-how of tyres, TPMS, navigation systems and vehicle-to-vehicle-communication means that it is in the best position for realising this kind of functionality in-house. To be concrete, with the legislation making TPMS mandatory, the already available Intelligent Tire technology and navigation systems penetrating the market more and more, nothing prevents this feature coming to the market together in the legislation time frame.

j-a: In the early days of indirect TPMS development, it was said that the system had within it all the information required to create a vehicle ‘black box’ similar to that found on aircraft. Yet as we see it, this idea never really took off into mainstream vehicles. Would you agree? In what other ways are TPMS being developed?

Continental: You are right. Black-box functionality never really took off. Next-generation TPMS systems are focusing on integrating the up-to-now fully mechanical tyres into the electronic control algorithms of modern vehicles. This concept is known as the intelligent tyre system. It extends the scope of classic TPMS systems to electronically identify tyre properties and even measure physical data at the tyre-road interface. Early applications will enable CO2 assistant functionalities to improve gas mileage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Load detection and filling assistant functions will help the driver in selecting correct target pressures and filling the tyres to the desired pressure levels. The ultimate target, however, is using tyre-related data to improve chassis algorithms, e.g. roll-over protection or brake distance, thus enhancing the fun of driving and vehicle safety at the same time.