DETROIT - German tire and components group Continental AG expects to double sales in the United States by 2002, Chairman Stephan Kessel said at the opening of new $40 million headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich.
'North America is Continental's fastest expanding market,' Kessel said. 'We are growing tremendously in this part of the world. We expect sales of $1.7 billion by 2002. That's twice today's levels.'
In recent years, Continental has become more than a tire manufacturer.
It combines tires, wheels, brakes, suspensions and stability systems into modules and is a Tier 1 supplier of integrated chassis systems.
Continental's Contitech unit specializes in suspension and chassis technology.
Teves, acquired from ITT Industries in 1998, gave Continental expertise in brakes.
'Our strongest business is in electronic braking systems such as antilock brakes and ESP (electronic stability program),' Kessel said. 'Here in the United States, installation rates are constantly increasing.'
Antilock braking systems have reached 64 percent installation rate in the United States - almost 100 percent in sport-utilities and 35 percent in cars. In Europe, the installation rate is 75 percent.
'There is an increasing trend toward antilock brakes in the United States,' Kessel said.
'Today it's the No. 1-demanded option by American consumers. In a few years, we expect antilock brakes to be standard on all new cars in both Europe and the United States.'
STABLE AND GROWING
Antilock brakes are necessary for electronic stability program application.
By 2004, Kessel forecasts 33 percent of all new cars in Europe and 10 percent in the United States will be equipped with electronic stability programs.
Worldwide, Continental Teves supplied nearly 400,000 electronic stability program units last year, giving it a market share of 30 percent. It will supply almost 1.4 million electronic stability program units this year.
Continental Teves' customers include Audi, BMW, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.
'Besides us, only Bosch is currently capable of offering antilock brakes with an integrated electronic stability program function,' said Continental Teves CEO Hans-Albert Beller.
'Next autumn, we intend to upgrade our electronic stability program function with a rollover-protection system.
'We are receiving great interest in this new system, especially from sport-utility manufacturers.'
When a sensor detects the likelihood of a vehicle rollover, it immediately inflates the front and side airbags.
'In the United States, rollover protection might become a legal requirement on sport-utilities in the near future,' Beller said.
Also under development at Continental is the '30 meter car' - a car with a 99-foot braking distance from 62 mph to a complete stop. Today, depending on the vehicle, braking distances range between 115 feet and 158 feet.
'Our overall goal is to shorten the time between when a driver becomes aware of a dangerous situation and the time the vehicle stops,' Beller said. 'By integrating our expertise in antilock brakes and tire technology, we are aiming at a 25 percent reduction in vehicle stopping distance.'
Continental's 'intelligent tire' is nearing production. It features sensors integrated into the rubber sidewall.
These sensors collect information about the forces acting between the road surface and the tires and deliver it to electronic chassis management systems.
'Continental has given the tire an electromagnetic voice that reports on what forces the tire is transmitting,' Beller said.
'We call the concept `sidewall torsion.' It has the potential of optimizing the antilock braking system and electronic stability program, offering total electronic chassis control.'
Continental's new Auburn Hills headquarters will help contribute to these developments. German and U.S. engineers jointly developed the company's rollover-protection system.
Trans-Atlantic teamwork will become easier now because Continental's new headquarters groups the company's North American engineering centers under one roof. Previously, they operated from three sites.