CELLE, Germany - Continental AG has developed an integrated braking system that aims to reduce a vehicle's stopping distance by up to 25 percent from today's performance.
The project also illustrates the German parts supplier's strategy of commanding higher prices from automakers by supplying high-value systems.
'If we just supply brakes, tires and technical parts, we're in a market that grows only moderately,' said Heinrich Huinink, Continental vice president of strategic technologies. 'But we have tremendous opportunity in putting the systems together.'
The complete package could appear on production vehicles by 2004, although elements of the concept will be used in production sooner.
Continental bundled its brake, chassis and tire technologies - some in development and some already on the market - for its 30-meter car project. The name refers to the goal of enabling a compact car to stop from 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) within 30 meters (99 feet.) Continental's project car is the diminutive Volkswagen Golf, which requires about 125 feet to stop from 60 mph with today's technology.
Continental expects the technology package to reduce stopping distance of larger cars and trucks by a similar 20 percent to 25 percent.
Such reductions are a key safety improvement sought by automakers, Continental leaders said. Shortening braking distance for all vehicles on all roads by 20 percent would reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 15 percent, according to German safety research group TUV Rheinland.
Braking puzzle pieces
The components of Continental's braking system include:
High-friction tires that grab more of the road.
Electrohydraulic brakes that trigger already-stored hydraulic pressure. With conventional brakes, brake fluid is pressurized after the brake pedal is activated.
An electronic suspension system with air springs and adjustable shock absorbers to better keep the tire surface on the road during braking.
Tire sidewall sensors that send data to an antilock brake computer. The information better enables the computer to transmit maximum braking force to each wheel.
A sensor that initiates braking before the driver's foot depresses the brake pedal. Saving just half a second in reaction time cuts about 46 feet off stopping distance, according to Continental engineers.
Time to market
Though not all of the technologies are ready for market, the approach could be used on a production vehicle within three to five years, Continental Chairman Stephan Kessel said. With rollover and stability concerns surrounding sport-utilities, U.S. manufacturers are likely early customers, as European luxury carmakers.
Continental already has production contracts that integrate elements of the prototype. The first significant rollout will come on the 2002 Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator.
Neither Continental nor Ford Motor Co. would detail sport-utility braking plans, but Continental is providing rear corner modules, front brake components, air springs and tires.