HANOVER, Germany — Leading European tire manufacturer Continental believes that there are still opportunities for growth within the highly competitive passenger and light truck tires sector despite the prolonged economic crisis. Nikolai Setzer, member of the board at Continental AG and head of the Passenger and Light Truck Tires division, said he sees new technologies, investment in research and development and underpinning the sales in the replacement business through success in original equipment as the way to go forward. In the high-performance tires sector in particular, Setzer says he can see attractive opportunities for growth in Europe.
"When it comes to passenger and light truck tires, we are the market leader for original equipment and for the winter tires sector," said Setzer at ContiTechnikForum 2009 in Portugal, speaking about the market position of the tires specialist. "As for product features, we place the utmost importance on short braking distances and maximum safety. These features combined with the lowest possible rolling resistance enable us to combine safety considerations with environmental aspects. These are two of the main areas on which we have been successfully focusing for years."
According to Setzer, Continental wishes, in the future, to expand its summer tires segment, especially with regard to high-performance tires (UHP sector, approved above 240 km/h). "On the one hand, we are anticipating that this area will see the largest and most profitable market growth during the next few years, with annual growth of more than 6 percent until 2012. On the other hand, our high competitiveness in this sector is demonstrated by our extremely technological orientation," he said. "Last year, a good 15 million of these tires – which are manufactured in sizes between 17 and 23 inches – were sold to markets in Western and Central Europe. We expect demand to rise to 20.4 million tires by 2012. This represents a growth of more than 35 percent compared with 2007 levels."
The main European markets for these UHP tires are Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Spain. "The first two of these countries alone constitute almost half of sales in the sector," explained Setzer. "However, seen as a percentage we are expecting sales of high-performance tires to increase even more in Southern Europe than in Great Britain and Germany."
During the last few years, Continental has already been consistently investing in new products in order to consolidate and extend its market leadership in Europe.
Next spring, the ContiSportContact 5 P will be launched – the new model for the really sporty passenger car. This tire’s “brother,” ContiSportContact 5, will be launched in spring 2011.
“For our new high-tech ContiSportContact 5 P tire, we already have approvals from several car manufacturers such as Mercedes AMG and Audi, even though we are still several months away from the planned start of series production in spring 2010," Setzer said.
In the high-performance sector in particular, OE approvals – which, in this sector require the highest possible level of technology due to the special requirements of vehicle manufacturers – pave the way for later success in the replacement business. "OE trade again contributes to the generation of know-how and the subsequent transfer of this know-how to tires for the replacement market," Setzer added.
Continental demonstrates the extent to which this transfer works through its emergency running systems, for example, which have been successfully marketed both in the original equipment sector and in the replacement market. "Here we are able to offer a wide portfolio of graduated solutions for practically all vehicle categories and manufacturer concepts from self-sealing ContiSeal tires to the ContiComfortKit," stated Setzer. "For example, with regard to UHP tires the ContiSportContact Vmax with a 360 km/h release for series production allows us to easily prove that close collaboration with leading vehicle manufacturers and high-end tuners contributes to technology leadership – especially in the high-performance sector. Due to the existing level of know-how in our research and development team, we have no need to become involved in racing series here."
Setzer believes that thanks to these new developments and to further investment in research and development, Continental is on the right path to generate growth in this sector through technology leadership. "Right now, it would be quite wrong to reduce important investments and projects in research in development for the short term," he warns. "Global competition and requirements for future solutions for personalized mobility are beginning to increase again. As the leading European manufacturer of tires, we thus want to convert our competitive edge into additional sales in the UHP sector via continuously further developed products."