Continental Forecasts Fuel Economy, Safety as Consumer Priorities

By Joel Arellano | January 30, 2012
Auto parts supplier Continental sees massive shifts in the auto industry both here in the U.S. and abroad, and predicts car safety and fuel economy as numero uno among automakers' priorities in their future vehicles. We had a chance to catch up with Continental at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show and discovered it had been quite busy since the week-long tour in 2010 where executives from four of the (then) six divisions discussed the company's future plans. (The company has since consolidated its two tire divisions.) Then, Continental or “Conti,” covered its chassis, safety, powertrain, and interior systems, the latter part focused on infotainment systems like the upcoming Android-interactive AutolinQ system. In Detroit, Conti's Chassis & Safety division discussed how braking systems would rise in prominence in future cars, especially overseas. Already braking systems are important in their base function to slow and halt today's vehicles but now also serve a role in recharging batteries in hybrid and electric vehicles (i.e., “regenerative braking.”) Now, new regulations overseas in the European Union are requiring even more powerful brake systems as the EU considers pedestrians-protecting technologies as exterior airbags on vehicles to be mandatory. To meet such regulations, Dr. Ralf Cramer, president of Chassis & Safety, introduced the MK C1 (pictured) during a presentation. The Conti MK C1 is a braking system that combines three major brake components –  brake actuation, the brake booster, and control units like ABS and ESC – into one package. According to Continental, the MK C1 is not only faster in reaction time than standard brakes, but works with regenerative braking systems as well. The integrated unit is also lighter than the standard brake and uses less energy from the car, enabling automakers to better meet fuel economy and, in the EU, CO2 emission standards.
Continental plans to start production of the Conti MK C1 by 2015. A “major” German automaker, well-known for safety, has already expressed interest in the unit. (Continental representatives were vague, of course, of the automaker's identity so we've narrowed it down to either Mercedes-Benz or Volkswagen. Personally, we think both automakers are potential customers for the MK C1.) Continental is also getting into the growing electric vehicle market. The car parts supplies also announced at the Detroit show announced that it is establishing a joint venture with Korean battery maker SK Innovation in the production of lithium-ion batteries, the major components for most hybrid and electric vehicles. Continental CEO Elmar Degenhart discussed the company's involvement during a roundtable discussion where he discusses the costs and timeline of the investment and predicts the venture will place both companies among the top three battery makers for EVs. The joint venture also gives Conti access to the non-automotive battery market as well. Continental sees the joint venture as part of its long-term strategy. States Degenhart, “This is an investment for the future, definitely. Nobody is under time pressure. You can't expect to make big profits four or five years from now. By 2020, we are projecting that about 8 percent of 100 million vehicles produced will be hybrid, and another 3 or 4 percent will be electric. By 2025, the combined volume of hybrids and EVs could rise to 30 or 40 percent.” As previously stated, it's been a while since the 2010 trip where reporters and journalists tested Continental's various products including Emergency Steer Assist and the fuel supply unit in the Tata Nano. Conti debuted its “Simply Your Drive” NFC car key system last year at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The system, which uses one's smartphone to open one's vehicle and start the engine, again exemplifies the continual merging of smartphone technologies with the car. Automotive's take: We continue to see future vehicles becoming more technologically advance not only just to be fuel efficient, but to entertain the consumer as well. It will be interesting to see what auto suppliers like Continental AG will showcase to automakers and which products make it into tomorrow's cars. What technology do you see/want in your car of tomorrow? Let us know in the comments below.