As Continental A.G. recently launched a sport-utility vehicle winter tire for both the European and North American markets, the introduction highlights Conti's plans to make its products more friendly to North American dealers and consumers.
More broadly, the German tire maker plans to overhaul many products under its Continental and General brands by 2008 to improve its position in North America, said Burkhard Wies, head of tire line development worldwide for the passenger and light truck division.
``We have had, to be honest, bad products in the market,'' Mr. Wies told Tire Business, referring to the lack of products designed specifically for North America.
The new winter tire, the ContiCrossContact Winter, will replace the 4x4 WinterContact tire. Besides design changes to improve performance, the tire maker changed the name to tap the ContiCrossContact family name, giving the company various tires under that name. The family name concept is popular in North America, Mr. Wies noted to journalists during the tire's launch in December in Ivalo.
The tire will be available in July in 18 sizes, five of which are exclusively for the North American market, including LT215/85R16 115/112Q, LT 245/75R16 120/115Q; 255/60R18 112 H XL, 255/50R20 109V XL and 295/35R21 107V XL.
The new tire was given a revamped tread design and compound. The design is engineered to be stiffer on the outer edges for improved wearability while the inner blocks have more flexibility to aid in snow and ice traction. These characteristics are true whether the tire is moving straight or laterally, Mr. Wies said.
The silica compound is designed to give the tire high flexibility at low temperatures for better grip, he added.
Tested against its predecessor, the ContiCrossContact Winter reduced braking distances on winter roads by 11 percent and on wet roads by 6 percent, increased the maximum cornering speed in the wet by 12 percent and improved dry handling performance by 6 percent. Tread life also increased 5 percent from the tire's predecessor, Conti said.
The factor of mileage has been one of the weaknesses of Conti's tires in North America, Mr. Wies said. North American consumers, he said, have come to expect tires to last 80,000 miles or more while European customers expect much less.
``What we really had to learn is that we are in a completely other league concerning mileage requirements,'' he told Tire Business.
Other factors that have worked against Conti products in North America are braking performance in wet, noise and vibration.
One major product replacement Mr. Wies is developing is a successor to the General Exclaim tire line, among others. He said the tire maker is still determining a name for the successor, but it plans to launch a preview of the new line in October and at the 2006 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in November. The new line will be the successor to the Ameri GS60 and G45 plus the XP 2000 II as well as Exclaim, he told Tire Business, and will have offerings in the compact, touring and high-performance segments.
Additional products that Mr. Wies expects to launch by 2008 include a General all-purpose tire line to succeed the AmeriTrac TR for sport-utility vehicles. Conti also wants to expand the CrossContact LX line in more ultra-high performance sizes.
One element of the redesigns that will be important to the North American market is the tire's design, Mr. Wies said.
``We have very boring, old-fashioned designs, which doesn't convince anyone,'' he said.
Continental hopes to build more relationships with tire dealers through ride and drives and other meetings, he said. But Conti also has to work on convincing North American consumers of the need for winter tires, period.
``Definitely we have experienced this,'' Mr. Wies said of consumers' hesitation. ``What helps is definitely to convince by arguments and facts and experience.''