It, rubber and high-voltage for tomorrow's vehicles
How will cars and trucks evolve between now and 2030? We talked about it with Alessandro De Martino, general market manager Continental Italia, who spoke about the different divisions within the German group and their future strategies
Doctor De Martino, how will the mobility scenario evolve between now and 2030?
"Technology develops very rapidly, making it difficult to understand now which trends will be successful later. There is certainly going to be a lot of talking about connected vehicles, autonomous driving and alternative fuels, but at the moment precise long term forecasts on future trends and needs by OE manufacturers are rather difficult. We can expect a large distribution of IT-based systems, as these are quite easy to install on vehicles of all sizes and at reasonable costs, as it is already happening with safety systems. Electric motors alone or within a hybrid drive-train will be increasingly important; therefore, we can expect a rapid development of batteries as well as management and recharging systems. Full electric technology will come in stages, going from mild to more powerful forms of hybrid drive-trains".
What about Continental, any Volt-ready solutions or autonomous systems ready for use?
"We should start talking about connectivity, which means 5G networks and communication between vehicles, but also between vehicles and surrounding infrastructures as well as the vehicle's ability to “understand” what happens around it and act accordingly. Both safety and the environment will greatly benefit from it. However, translating the huge amount of data gathered and processed into something tangible will largely depend on reaching a minimum threshold of connected vehicles. Besides real safety systems, such as the automatic Aebs emergency stop and the Blind Spot Detector, which warns the driver of the presence of vehicles or vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, a special role will be played by autonomous and semi-autonomous systems such as platooning, of great interest for the transport industry. Connections between vehicles and automatic systems will likely reduce downtime and therefore transport costs. Furthermore, in a not too distant future, we have to expect vehicles able to interact independently with the aftermarket world: vehicles will, sooner or later, be able to reserve maintenance and repairs services, and even automatically pay the bill".
However, in the next few years traffic will probably increase at a faster rate than all these high-tech mobility systems; therefore, addressing drivers behaviour will be equally crucial.
Are there any Continental initiatives in this field?
"As far as the Italian and European scenario I cannot see significant changes in traffic volumes. What I can imagine, though, is a more rational management of all circulating vehicles, perhaps with a slight decrease in number and a greater awareness on the importance of safety systems, which are still viewed as mere gadgets by far too many motorists. Unfortunately, on our roads, fatal accidents are in the region of a dozen every day, 90% of which due to human error. In order to reduce them, we need greater safety education, think, for example, to periodic tire-checks, often forgotten as tires have become more reliable and versatile (less punctures and a single set for summer and winter). In addition, service networks need to be upgraded: I think, for example, at pressure gauges in service stations which are often unreliable. As far as we are concerned, during the research and development we take into account both the needs of the vehicle, thanks to consolidated relationships with car and truck builders, and the supply chain in which our component is meant to be used. Being suppliers of different and complementary systems such as tires, brakes, connectivity and information exchange hardware and braking energy recovery systems allows us to have a holistic approach as early as the design phase, which makes for better communication between components".
Do you foresee major changes in tire technology, say within the next ten years?
"Shape and function will remain the same. On the other hand, interaction with on-board systems will change, especially on industrial vehicles. Tpms sensors were the first step in this respect. We can also expect innovations as far as design is concerned, as we have already seen with the introduction of all-seasons products which are a new type of tire, quite different from summer and winter products. Finally, there is an important aspect to consider, though this relates mainly to passenger and freight transport vehicles, and that is having the right tire for every use. For instance, manufacturers are increasingly demanding tires with extremely low rolling resistance, in an attempt to reduce emissions.
What will happen to sales networks in the next five years? Can we expect expansions, reorganizations or technological changes? And, additionally, will the application of shared mobility models (car sharing, short and long rentals) influence the way tires are sold and serviced?
"Well, as far as purchasing tires is concerned, fleets and car sharing schemes are bound to shift the decision-making process from individual drivers to a specific figure such as a fleet manager. On the one hand purchasing will be centralized, on the other the whole organization behind logistics and distribution will change, while catalogues will be increasingly complex due to companies offering custom made tires for each individual vehicle. Therefore, for small independent companies that are not part of a network able to guarantee continuous technical updates and commercial relationships, doing business will becomes increasingly difficult. To this we must add external factors that are making it increasingly difficult to keep retail and assistance points open in historic centres".
Can you tell us something about Continental's commitment to the environment and its relationship with the Ecopneus consortium?
"Italy, with its thousands of small enterprises makes up a rather complex scenario (5,000 tire dealers and 10,000 other operators that, in various capacities, sell and change tires), but as far as ELT collection and disposal is concerned, it is a recognized excellence, a case study everywhere. Continental, along with many of its competitors, is a members of Ecopneus, which has successfully performed many important operations in difficult places such as the “Land of Fires”. Our commitment is not limited to just recovering ELTs, though, we are looking at eliminating the root cause, black market sales. Tax evasion distorts all data on real trade volumes making it impossible to manage the correct ELT volumes creating, at the same time, the perfect conditions for an untraceable product to exist. In addition, besides the black market plague, there is also another negative phenomenon, imports of worn tires (tread with 3 mm residual or less) that are then resold, generally without an invoice or with partial invoicing, and that due to their bad conditions have a very short lifespan inflating the amount of worn tire casings. Curtailing such phenomena, often in the hands of criminal organizations, is a constant commitment of Ecopneus and all its members".