AUBURN HILLS, Mich.—Continental A.G. has been awarded a contract from Ford Motor Co. to supply the corner modules—tires, wheels, suspension, brakes and electronics—for Ford's new sport utility vehicle, the Escape, when that 2001 model debuts later this year. The contract, for which no value was released, is representative of the direction Continental is going since its takeover of ITT Industries' Teves braking and chassis systems business in 1998, according to Stephan Kessel, CEO of Continental since June 1999.
"Our company is really going for the total chassis systems approach as we specialize in the dynamics of driving," Mr. Kessel said. "We have expanded our core competence to include chassis and driving dynamics. We will soon offer the chassis of the future on a worldwide basis.
"By producing a complete brake corner module," Mr. Kessel said, "we are able to integrate the brake, spindle, hub and bearing components to achieve weight, quality and (noise, vibration and harshness) improvements."
By optimizing the tires, wheels, suspension, brakes and electronics as a whole, Continental believes it can gain performance and cut costs, as well as enhancing safety, Mr. Kessel said.
"Also, by having the tire and ABS control in our hands," he continued, "we are in a position to minimize the stopping distance. We are already in the process of achieving noticeable reductions."
Conti's development work on complete corner modules reflects the vehicle makers' giving suppliers more responsibility, Mr. Kessel said.
"Perhaps this (increased responsibility) is a recognition that we can often do the engineering more economically and efficiently," Mr. Kessel said, "with greater expertise in our product areas. In the future, we may become an engineering company that gets reimbursed for its engineering, as well as its products."
Reflecting the company's drive to systems integration, Continental is investing $40 million in an NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) center for its tire and chassis systems business near Detroit.
"We will soon be in a position to offer worldwide cooperation with our customers for the chassis of the future," Mr. Kessel said. "We will be able to combine all the skills of Continental and offer real systems know-how.
"We started with complete wheel assembly and we are going to full corners," Mr. Kessel said. "We have some challenging projects for corners which include suspension components that we purchase from other suppliers.
"As well as being able to provide judgment of ride and noise, we will be able to improve the whole of the process in a chassis—from the way it feels on the road, to the way it sounds to a driver or passenger."