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06/03/2012
A 140-YEAR-OLD STORY

CONTINENTAL
The story of the German group along the road of product innovation, competitive sports, expansion of its core business and internationalization. A company with revenues of almost 30 billion euros and 164,000 employees at 200 factories located in 45 countries. The Italian subsidiary is celebrating the anniversary at the Monte Carlo Rally

Mino De Rigo

An anniversary and an excellent excuse to talk about itself. Indeed, even without its fascinating figures, 140 years in business give it every right to look back, take stock and recall an entrepreneurial story that began on 8 October 1871, when nine bankers and industrialists from Hanover set up Continental-Caoutchouc & Gutta-Percha Compagnie. It is also the anniversary of a century in competitive sports and the imminent sixtieth birthday of the winter tyre we owe to the German brand. So what could be better than a retro-flavoured celebration on the racetrack to associate these anniversaries with the long journey of past and present research and development and new technologies. The cherry on the cake is Continental Italia’s participation in the 15th Rallye di Monte Carlo Historique as sponsor of 12 teams of the Scuderia Milano Autostoriche. Managing director Alessandro De Martino said: “Telling our story defines our future on the basis of our continued commitment to technology and innovation in an environment that is wider and more international than ever before; we have been one of the main suppliers of components for the automotive sector for a decade and if about a fourth of our current turnover comes from tyres, the rest is from systems and components”. From brakes to onboard electronics for dynamic driving control and infotainment devices, from instruments to sensors, from elastomeric technical products to parts for transmissions, chassis and conventional, hybrid and electric engines. 

 

Immediate success

“The four main directions for development are safety, respect for the environment, technologies for increasingly effective interaction between vehicles and the outside world, and solutions that can be accessed also by the smallest vehicles: we are able to integrate all these aspects with tyres”, De Martino emphasized. It is the result of development that the founders certainly would not have imagined when they began their adventure. With considerable capital, the equivalent of over 6 million euros today, a workforce of 200 people and a loan for the company logo, the autochthonous breed of thoroughbred Hanoverian horses, they began to make articles in soft rubber, from dolls to solid tyres for bicycles and carts, rubberized fabrics and hot water bottles. Business boomed and, at the end of the ‘20s, Germany’s main rubber industries decided to unite to form Continental Gummi-Werke AG so that they could compete more strongly on foreign markets. In the meantime, at least three innovations gave the business additional impetus: the introduction in 1904 of a tyre with a tread pattern, followed by the prototype of a studded tyre, the forerunner of the winter tyre (with rivets for improving traction) and, four years later, a detachable rim for cars, which saved time and effort when changing tyres. 

 

Innovation and progress 

The launch of the cord tyre and the pioneering use of carbon black in 1926 were the prelude to the more intense season of competitive sports. Mounted on Mercedes and Auto Union racing cars, the German company’s tyres were constant protagonists on the circuits of Europe and North Africa; subsequently, after the war, they were used by Daimler Benz and Porsche on cars that were driven to success by Karl Kling, Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio. Marking the technical development of the time was the patent requested for tubeless tyres in ’43, the production of which began twelve years later, the launch in ’52 of the new M+S winter tyres and, in 1960, the mass production of radial tyres. The construction of the factory in France was the start of three decades of internationalization and the first acquisitions: after Uniroyal’s factories in Europe (1979), during the two-year period 1985-87 Continental acquired Semperit of Austria and General Tire of America, and, in 1993, Mabor of Portugal was joined later by Barum of the Czech Republic. The past twenty years have coincided with the expansion of business in various related sectors through which the group has built up its profile as an all round supplier and is now one of the top five in the automotive industry. In 1994 came the integration with leather and film manufacturer Benecke-Kaliko and, four years later, the acquisition of the Automotive Brake and Chassis division of a US company, the nucleus of which is represented by Alfred Teves of Germany.

 

The business goes global

Between 2001 and 2007 it incorporated Temic, specializing in electronic components for cars; Phoenix, for rubber and plastic; the Motorola business unit for electronic car components, and Siemens Vdo Automotive, one of the leading companies for onboard electronics and infotainment devices. They were also the years when Continental strengthened its position as an international tyre manufacturer by opening new factories in Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, Romania and Slovakia, where it also multiplied its technological cooperation and international joint ventures. More recently came expansion in Brazil, India and Asia, where last year it opened the first Continental factory in China. The long list of innovations ranges from multi-award-winning systems like the Integrated Starter Alternator Damper (ISAD) created in 1997 for hybrid engines, to road tyres like the ContiSportContact Vmax, homologated for speeds of up to 360 km/h. In between, there have been technical solutions such as the system of opposing sipe faces used for the first time in the ContiWinterContact TS 790 tyre launched in ’98. A note of interest: a row of sipes in a 196/65 R15 tyre would be almost 2 km long!; then came the homonymous TS 810S in 2005, the first winter tyre homologated for a top speed of 270 km/h. 

 

The Monte Carlo Historique

“The best test bench for winter tyres” – said Alberto Bergamaschi, head of PR at Continental Italia – “is competitions like the Monte Carlo Rally because of the extreme and constantly changing winter weather conditions, even in the “Historique” version (six days at the end of January and beginning of February) for vehicles 25 years old and over. It is a really competitive race, even for tyres”. This was why linking historical racing cars with very modern winter tyres, the ContiIceContact with and without studs, was the high note of the 140-year celebrations. The task of these tyres was to provide safe acceleration, braking and grip on 3,000 km of some of the most demanding roads across the Alps, with surfaces that went from cold to wet and from snow to ice.

 

 

• A group at the double in 2011 

Frenetic energy sprinkled with new investments in foreign markets, a turnover that promises to be close to 30 billion euros with net profits twice those of 2010. For the Continental group the year that has just ended should show over 17% growth in revenues and be a driving force for further progress in 2012, despite the rise in the cost of raw materials and a negative economy. Credit also goes to the marching orders that led to the expansion of the tyre factory in Camaçari, Brazil, the acquisition of Modi Tire in India, the expansion of the testing centre in Texas at a cost of 2.5 million, and capacity increased to 4 million tyres a year at Mt. Vernon in the United States; the same production capacity for the first factory in China which cost 185 million, and the construction in Russia of a new plant for car tyres that will cost a billion euros and begin operating at the end of 2013. Lastly, 500 million dollars for the plant in Sumter, USA, and another 9.3 million euros for a new technical centre in Salto, Brazil. In 2011 Continental hired another 5,500 people, which brings the total for the group to 164,000.

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