It may not have a hot, ``branded'' lifestyle event, nor can it claim to have a tire that spews red smoke in burnouts.
At this point Continental Tire North America (CTNA) Inc. doesn't even have a permanent top executive.
What CTNA does have are new tire lines targeted at some of the sweetest segments of the enthusiast market, a safety commitment message that it wants to spread, and-not to be taken lightly-traction from a dedicated team of managers and employees eager to show off its star tires for 2005.
Groups of customers and a handful of media representatives were recently turned loose on portions of the most impressive playground the Charlotte, N.C.-based tire maker could provide: its 5,000-acre Uvalde proving grounds west of San Antonio.
Participants were encouraged to fling Continental- and General-equipped BMW 3 Series sedans, Ford Mustang GTs and brawny Dodge Ram pickups harder through turns than 95 percent of sane drivers ever push their wheels or their luck.
With its economic fortunes sagging in recent years, company officials are hoping the new tires will rev up General's image.
Continental's pizzazz, on the other hand, is bolstered by the fact its tires are original equipment not only on the Dodge Magnum Hemi but selected ``bling-mobiles'' offered by Mercedes-Benz, BMW A.G. and Range Rover.
One of Continental's leading players, the CH95 all-season grand touring tire, is being phased out. The new flagship is the ContiProContact, an ``all around better tire'' than the CH95, said Paul Tecci, Continental brand manager in the U.S. ``Through innovation and technology we've made a leap in performance,'' he said.
The bag of techno tricks includes curved siping that results in more than 800 multidirectional patterns. That, Mr. Tecci said, cuts noise but increases traction, especially in wet weather.
The curved tread blocks are designed to prevent tread blocks from interlocking under load. Continental's ``PROgressive Groove Ramp'' technology-consisting of progressively rounder groove bases to support the tire shoulder-is said to provide sporty yet predictable cornering, while promoting water evacuation. Rolling resistance also has been improved.
In the replacement sector, the ContiProContact is available in 22 sizes ranging from 185/65R15 to 245/40R18. Speed ratings will be H, V and W; its UTQG numbers are 420 AA A across the line.
On the original equipment side, ContiProContacts are already standard on certain Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Jaguar and BMWs. Mr. Tecci said 25 OE approvals are pending. Run-flat versions of the new tire are available in limited 16- and 17-inch sizes.
Continental also hopes to bag bigger game with its new ContiCrossContact UHP, aimed at performance sport-utility vehicles and light trucks. The tires have an asymmetric tread pattern with large grooves, new generation silica technology and ``bionic contour'' that helps braking and cornering stability.
Available in 20 sizes ranging from 235/60R16 to 315/35ZR24, the CrossContact UHP is original equipment on certain Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover models. The CrossContact UHP sports V, W and Y speed ratings and a UTQG of 420 AA A.
Spicing up General's offerings are the brand's first tires aimed specifically at high-performance/tuner cars and sport trucks. The new Exclaim UHP, Grabber UHP and Grabber HP are geared to drivers who want the performance and flash but are careful with their cash.
The Exclaim UHP passenger tire boasts the V-shaped tread that dealers and wholesalers claim is practically a must in today's market. Attention to contour, second-generation silica-a first for General-and a high void-to-tread ratio are said to offer superior resistance to hydroplaning.
Available in 21 sizes from 205/45R16 to 225/30R20, the Exclaim line bears a UTQG of 380 AA A.
General is ``giving the customer a tire that in the dry handling is as good as anything that it needs to be out there,'' said Tony Talbert, General Tire brand manager. ``Most people can't push a tire in the dry to its limit on a day-to-day basis. I had no intention of making a max performance tire out of this. What we really wanted was this well-balanced tire-one that's going to give the customer some extra safety.''
Jeffrey Mahoney, operations manager for Raben Tire Co.'s wholesale division in Cincinnati, was amazed by the performance of the Continentals and Generals on Uvalde's massive wet test pad.
``They were very impressive, especially the wet traction,'' Mr. Mahoney said, calling CTNA's ``Overdrive'' demonstration program ``first class.''
``I liked the way the tracks were set up,'' he said, explaining that compared with other ride-and-drives, ``you could feel a lot more than the ones in the parking lot. I was real impressed that they had everything from small BMW sedans to a big Dodge Pickup truck on courses like that. I didn't think you could drive a big truck at those speeds like that but you sure did!''
John Rastetter, director of product information services for online and mail order marketer Tire Rack in South Bend, Ind., said the ContinentalProContacts have two key characteristics.
``The thing I liked about the tire is it provided sufficient grip and very predictable handling,'' Mr. Rastetter said. ``Those are two areas that are very important in order to have a tire that's easy to drive for the typical driver.''
Light truck tires like the new Generals are bought by some consumers more for ``the cosmetic statement that wheels and tires can make to their pickup truck or SUV,'' he said. ``They're not going for the all-out performance. These are folks who are often more particular about the wheel they select than the tire side of it. By having a lower speed rated product, (CTNA) can offer the traction and looks for a little bit less money.''