Enno Straten, Head of Strategy, Analytics and Marketing at Continental Tires EMEA, explains at the presentation of the new Generation 5 Conti Hybrid tire line how Continental is shaping the transformation to electric mobility with specially developed commercial vehicle tires and smart sensors.
Mr. Straten, electric mobility has hit the fast lane, and the EU is predicting 30 million electric vehicles will be on Europe’s roads by 2030. How far has electrification progressed with commercial vehicles?
Electrically powered trucks play an important role in reducing CO2 emissions from road traffic – and therefore in achieving sustainable mobility. It is true that development has reached a more advanced stage with passenger cars – as well as with electric vans and electric buses – than with heavy-duty commercial vehicles. Electric vans are employed primarily by courier, express delivery and package delivery services; light electric trucks up to 7.5 metric tons are generally used for delivery purposes in urban areas to transport goods over the last mile. And an ever increasing number of local transport operators are running electric buses.
What do these changes to drive systems mean for the tire market?
The rapid development of electric mobility has been accompanied by a surge in demand for suitable tires in the commercial vehicle segment. The new drive system types and, in some cases, new vehicle concepts, are changing requirement profiles.
What are these new requirements?
First of all, tires for electrified commercial vehicles do not yet differ fundamentally from tires for commercial vehicles with diesel or gasoline engines. Having said that, certain parameters that play a major role for us in tire development are changing. Uppermost on this list are load capacity, rolling resistance and wear resistance. Vehicles with electric drive are heavier on account of the batteries they are carrying, but they also accelerate faster than vehicles with conventional engines. The driver can essentially call on maximum torque from a standstill. So greater forces are exerted on the tires of electrified vehicles.
Can you give us some specific examples of tire developments?
With the Conti Urban city bus tire, we have developed a tire with an increased load index specially for electric buses operating in urban areas. The load capacity of the tire is geared to the higher weight of electric buses. For example, the Conti Urban HA3 315/60 R22.5 can carry up to eight tons per axle.
You also mentioned rolling resistance as an influencing factor. What role does this parameter play?
Optimized rolling resistance allows the motor’s energy consumption to be reduced, and that also applies for vehicles with combustion engines. Since the EU emissions directive came into force and the VECTO tool was introduced – if not before – commercial vehicle manufacturers have been concentrating on lowering CO2 emissions. And tires have been one of their main points of focus.
Another trend are smart tires with sensors. What sort of developments are we seeing here?
Yes, commercial vehicle tires are being increasingly incorporated into the vehicle architecture for connected and automated driving. We also offer this technology as a professional retrofit solution with ContiConnect 2. Sensors fitted in the tire provide information such as tire pressure, temperature, wheel load, tread depth, wheel speed, wheel slip, and structural damage in the tire. This information can be accessed and analyzed in real time. The result is improved handling properties, increased road safety and greater efficiency, combined with low costs.
You mentioned working with commercial vehicle manufacturers. What do these partnerships look like in detail?
A good example here is VDL Bus & Coach, a leading manufacturer of electric buses based in the Netherlands. We have been running a partnership with the company since the end of 2020 and have worked with them to develop initial prototype tires for electric city buses. We have now tested these tires in depth at our Contidrom proving grounds. VDL has been offering electric city buses since 2013. The driving environment with these buses is a departure from the familiar. To start with, there is the higher torque when pulling away and accelerating. And then you have the impact of recuperation – i.e. recovery of energy when braking. All of this subjects the tires to particularly significant forces.
Our partnership with the Switzerland-based Designwerk Group’s electric truck brand Futuricum works in a very similar way. In fall 2021, a Futuricum truck fitted with our EfficientPro tires set a new distance world record at the Contidrom: 1,099 kilometers on a single battery charge!
Those collaborations are with commercial vehicle manufacturers. Do you also have special partnerships with end customers – i.e. mobility providers?
One example here would be our partnership with MOIA, a ride-sharing company operating in Hamburg and Hanover. We developed a special all-season tire for MOIA, which offers even greater safety in combination with the Conti360° Fleet Solutions concept. Together with our service partner Vergölst we are working intensively on optimizing tire performance and breakdown service. This has seen us successfully carry over our established 360° Fleet Solutions approach from the commercial vehicle space into MOIA’s new and innovative mobility concept.
Do you also work with traditional mobility providers, e.g. with local transport operators?
Of course – the partnership with the Hamburg-Holstein public transport operator (VHH) is a case in point. VHH uses fully electric Lion’s City buses from MAN. To ensure the tires can deal with the weight of the batteries on board, the buses are fitted with our Conti Urban HA3 tire. Our developers have increased the load capacity of this tire specially to meet the requirements of electric mobility in urban areas. Two other examples also spring to mind – one in everyday usage scenarios and one in the context of smart tires.
Sounds interesting – please tell us more!
The Stiegl brewery in Austria has been running an electric truck from MAN since late 2018. In this time, our Conti Hybrid HS3 and HD3 tires have covered more than 23,000 kilometers on the vehicle. The truck is on the road for eight hours a day in the center of Salzburg and in a radius of 50 kilometers around the city. Stiegl report that our tires have performed outstandingly across all driving situations.
That’s nice feedback! What example were you thinking of when you mentioned smart tires?
We launched a pilot project with SHARE NOW Denmark in which we successfully monitored the tread depth of tires on electric vehicles in real time. Together with telemetry experts Traffilog, we linked information from tire sensors and telemetry data from the fleet’s vehicles with a cloud-based algorithm. We were then able to use this information to tailor our tire service even more precisely to actual needs, instead of pursuing regular, scheduled servicing.