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Executive Interview

Executive Interview with Howard Laster, Director of Product Management and New Business Development, Continental Commercial Vehicles & Aftermarket

In today’s Executive Interview, Laster talks with aftermarketNews about emerging technologies and trends for Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) and the company’s new VDO REDI-Sensor.

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Amy Antenora has been reporting on the automotive aftermarket since 2002.

Howard Laster is director of product management and new business development for Continental Commercial Vehicles & Aftermarket. He is charged with developing new business opportunities for existing product offerings, as well as seeking new business relationships utilizing mutual manufacturing, engineering, customer base and sales and marketing expertise to provide unique solutions. Responsibilities also include directing the VDO Product Management Team and Portfolio, pricing strategies, and new product development.

Laster had been with the company for more than 15 years serving in a variety of executive management and sales roles. He was also marketing manager for Blue Chip Products and product manager for KSG Safeguard Engine Parts, as well as owner and general manager of First Auto Parts, a proprietorship he maintained for 10 years.

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Continental Commercial Vehicles & Aftermarket is a leading aftermarket supplier of OE-engineered replacement parts for a variety of automotive components. Continental provides ATE premium brand pads and rotors, hydraulics, brake fluids, tools and test equipment, and VDO premium brand parts for HVAC and engine cooling, door systems, tire pressure monitoring systems, engine management, fuel systems and instrumentation.

In today’s Executive Interview, Laster talks with aftermarketNews about emerging technologies and trends for Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) and the company’s new VDO REDI-Sensor.

Continental recently developed and introduced to the market the new VDO REDI-Sensor, which is designed to work with all major scan tools and offers a number of benefits to tire dealers and repair facilities. Can you tell us more about this new product?

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We created the VDO REDI-Sensor for one basic purpose, to simplify TPMS service, which, up to now, had become increasingly complex and confusing. There are a lot of sensors on the market, and most of them require some additional purchase of specialized scan tools and expensive software updates. Some sensors come blank and need to be programmed first.

But REDI-Sensor is a real game changer. It cuts through all of that complexity and delivers three significant technological breakthroughs for TPMS service. First, it combines multiple sensor protocols in one unit, so it can work with a variety of vehicle makes and models. Secondly, it works with all major scan tools so shops do not have to purchase additional scan tools and software upgrades or undergo special training. Finally, and most importantly, it’s ready to use right out of the box. REDI-Sensor relearns to the vehicle just like the OE sensor and does not require programming.

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How will the distribution segment benefit from this new “universal” product?

The biggest benefit will be a financial one, in the form of incremental sales and profits. With REDI-Sensor, less is more. We’ve reduced the need for a truckload of SKUs, but we’ve added more application coverage than ever before. Our distributors don’t have to carry as much inventory, yet they can still meet the needs of all their service shop customers and not miss out on any sales.

With competitive universal blank sensor programs, for example, auto parts stores would have to limit their sales to only those shops that have the corresponding scan tool.

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REDI-Sensor is unique in this area because it can be installed and activated with any major scan tool. On top of that, it eliminates the extra training, programming steps and time it takes to install a blank sensor. VDO REDI-Sensor uses the same relearn procedure as the OE sensor and actually activates faster. All this translates into a quicker and easier job with fewer hassles for the technician and satisfied customers that will end up paying less and not have to wait as long for their vehicle to be serviced.

I should also point out that in addition to reducing their inventory investment, shops will also avoid the added cost of purchasing the special scan tools and/or the software updates required by other sensor programs

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Right now, the VDO REDI-Sensor offers broad application coverage for domestic vehicles. Any plans to expand the offering to foreign nameplates?

Yes, the REDI-Sensor program will get expanded import coverage throughout 2011. We have targeted early 2011 to validate and add various Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Suzuki, Isuzu and Hyundai applications. Honda, Nissan, Toyota and Kia are also under development and will follow along quickly with European application coverage as well. We expect the complete REDI-Sensor program to cover more than 90 percent of all vehicles in North America and replace well over 100 OE sensors.

How will this new product help motorists and service shops in California stay current on the new state tire inflation regulations (CARB’s "Regulation to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Vehicles Operating with Under Inflated Tires.")?

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Well this is really a general TPMS issue and not specific to REDI-Sensor. Although REDI-Sensor will not provide any additional help to motorists and service shops in terms of the CARB initiative, it does make it easier for the both parties to keep the vehicle’s tire pressure monitoring system in compliance.

What’s next for TPMS in your estimation – in terms of application and technological advancements?

Our current focus is, of course, on expanding our TPMS program. But as you know, TPMS, like other automotive systems, is constantly evolving. Continental is developing new intelligent sensor technology that will yield even more safety and performance benefits. Future TPMS sensors from Continental will be integrated into the tire and will provide a wealth of information beyond tire pressure, such as tire type, speed rating, tire position, rotation intervals, tire mileage and expected life. They will also be able to limit vehicle speed based on tire temperature and pressure, alert the driver when more air pressure is needed under heavy loads and extend battery wear by shutting down when not in use.

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What’s next for Continental’s Commercial Vehicles & Aftermarket division?

The Continental Commercial Vehicles & Aftermarket division continues to focus on bringing new products and technologies developed by our OE Divisions to the Aftermarket. Whether it’s a replacement part or an innovative aftermarket solution, such as REDI-Sensor, we are tapping into Continental’s core competency advantages in technology, innovation, quality, design and manufacturing.

New and improved products are already in the mix for our VDO Engine Management and Fuel Supply categories, and we will be adding new applications to our Racing Fuel Injector, Mass Air Flow Sensor, Fuel Module and Throttle Valve lines. Our ATE brake line has just launched its new ATE Ceramic Pads for European vehicles and added fresh SKUs to expand its ATE PremiumOne Disc Brake Rotor and Pad coverage.

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We are also continually improving and expanding the make and model year coverage of our VDO OE-engineered replacement products for electric motors and door systems.

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