Interviews

Driving Innovation: Continental’s Strategic Initiatives for Electrification, Automation, and Safety in the Evolving Automotive Landscape

CXOToday has engaged in an exclusive interview with Prashanth Doreswamy, President and CEO, Continental India on automotive trends

As the automotive industry undergoes a transformation towards electric and autonomous vehicles, what strategic initiatives has Continental undertaken to adapt to this changing landscape?

The automotive sector has been undergoing a radical transformation with the incorporation of digitization resulting in four technology driven trends including autonomous mobility, connected technologies, shared mobility, and the rise of electric vehicles.

As the expectations of customers are changing, the demand for autonomous and electric vehicles has increased in the country. Continental is in the fast lane when it comes to electrification and innovation. With its product spectrum extending from innovative tires to high-performance computers and interactive displays for the connected cockpit to intelligent brake systems and a practical robot for charging at home. Continental is currently developing market-ready products, services and technologies that offer the ultimate user experience and comfort in electric cars providing greater range, safety and efficiency as well as connectivity, automation and interaction.

Over the years, we have developed various products and technologies to suit the needs of the customers. With the introduction of interactive user interface and future brake systems, makes the vehicle safer and much more efficient.

To strengthen our strategic initiatives, we continue to drive forward research and development in the area of assisted and automated driving – with the aim of making the (electric) mobility of the future along with its new functions and services safer, more efficient and convenient. Electric mobility requires joint efforts. For this reason, Continental relies on close collaboration for numerous developments. In our partnership with Ambarella, we are jointly driving forward full-stack solutions for automation levels from SAE level 2+ up to level 4 (highly automated vehicles). Through our partnership with Aurora Innovation, we have finalized the design of World’s First Scalable Autonomous Trucking System. This Level 4 autonomous driving system will start its production in 2027.

In 2022, we also widened our offerings by launching two new sensors for electrified vehicles: the Current Sensor Module (CSM) and the Battery Impact Detection (BID) system that protect the batteries, limit the aging effects of the battery by restricting its parameters and detect underfloor impacts by alerting the driver.

Our development and production service provider, Continental Engineering Services (CES) is cooperating with the battery specialist Varta. The aim of this partnership is to develop new technologies and products that particularly lead to advances in sustainable solutions in the field of electro-mobility.

 

Continental is known for its strong safety focus. How does the company prioritize safety in its product development, and what measures are taken to ensure the highest standards are met?

India is a growing automotive hub and the third largest automotive industry globally. The Indian Road network carries over 90 percent of the country’s passenger traffic and approximately 65 percent of its goods. With the increase in the number of vehicles, road safety has become a critical factor for the citizens of the country. According to data presented by the World Health Organization, more than 1.3 million people die in road traffic accidents worldwide annually.

In the last few years, there have been several advancements in safety technologies in the automotive sector in both active and passive safety systems. The government has undertaken many initiatives and mandated safety technologies in new and old vehicles. Since April 2019, the fitment of Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) has become mandatory for all passenger cars.  Since January 2022, it has been mandatory to have 2 Airbags (Front Airbags) in all Passenger Cars. Apart from this, Bharat NCAP would also mandate the installation of six airbags, electronic stability control (ESC), three-point seatbelts for every passenger, improved emergency braking systems, etc. Continental aims at supporting these initiatives undertaken by the government and is working on innovating technologies to further strengthen the safety system of vehicles in India.

Organizations like GNCAP also play an important role in spreading awareness about safety. Continental is an active voice at Global NCAP. For instance, we are partnering with the Global NCAP ‘Stop the Crash’ information campaign, an initiative of Global NCAP.  Intelligent technologies such as ADAS, Automated Emergency Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind-Spot Detection, Intelligent Intersection, Right-Turn Assist, Transparent Hood, etc., that are making driving safer would comply with regulations by NCAP globally and be customized to the regional Bharat NCAP, and Continental has been preparing itself for it. This is both a welcome change when it comes to the safety scenario and Continental is committed to it. Continental is also a part of RAASI (Road Accidents Sampling System India) and we help with the road accident statistics in India so that we can develop technologies suitable to Indian use-case situations.

Over the years, Continental has introduced various safety solutions to meet the government regulations. Continental believes that safety is for all and aims to fulfil the industry wide approach, “Vision Zero”, a future with zero fatalities, zero injuries and zero crashes.

Continental’s safety business expansion in India since 2016 marks a remarkable journey of growth and localization. Continental has made consistent investments in safety since then. Commencing our safety operations in 2016, we swiftly established our presence in the Indian market by setting up a plant to localize Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS). In 2016, we established a line for ABS and ESC assembly in our Gurgaon brake systems plant. Through consistent efforts and investments, Continental has successfully scaled up its manufacturing capabilities, transforming the localized ABS production into a large-scale operation.

We also started the production of airbags (ACU) in our Bengaluru plant in 2016. In 2019, we added additional assembly lines to increase capacity to meet the growing market demand. We now produce two million ACUs a year and plan to expand it to 3.5 million units this year.

Continental has been progressively manufacturing Wheel Speed Sensors at our Manesar plant since 2010. The localization efforts substantially benefited from the safety regulations introduced in April 2019 – mandating ABS in all the passenger cars and 2-Wheelers upwards of 125 CC caused a spike in demand for Wheel Speed Sensors. The Wheel Speed Sensors aid safety by providing the vehicle speed signals to Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) and Electronic Stability Control (ESC). The precise signals inputs are used to prevent the wheels from locking or spinning, thus taking appropriate control action to maintain the vehicle’s stability at any steering angles. From design, prototyping, validation, and production, the business unit demonstrates product competence and contributes to the road safety value chain.

Last year, we started with the production of TPMS in India. As the demand has increased, we will be adding an additional line for TPMS sensors over the next few months. We have already installed a near-4-million-unit annual capacity TPMS line and will ramp it up to 10 million units in a phased manner.

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) play a pivotal role in complementing the overarching safety vision within the automotive industry. ADAS technology encompasses a range of innovative features that assist drivers in avoiding crashes, mitigating risks, and enhancing the overall driving experience. These systems serve as integral components by providing crucial information to drivers and automating specific functionalities, thereby enhancing overall safety on the road.

 

Sustainability has become an increasingly important aspect of business operations. How does Continental incorporate sustainability into its manufacturing processes and product offerings?

Continental looks at sustainability from an all-encompassing perspective, including respecting the law, conserving resources, climate protection, fulfilling responsibilities towards employees and the wider society. Today, most manufacturers recognize and acknowledge their environmental and social responsibility. At Continental, we see it as a necessity for the future. It is important for us to incorporate sustainability at all levels of the production cycle as well as in our products. The factory of the future is always designed for ecologically sustainable production, including the efficient use of energy and materials.

Continental has identified four focus areas for achieving its sustainability goals—carbon neutrality, emission-free mobility and industry, a circular economy, and a responsible value chain. Continental aims to fulfil its ambition by 2050. The company is working towards making all of its production processes carbon-neutral by 2040 by meeting the targets of the global Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to keep the rise in global temperatures well below 2°C, and ideally below 1.5°C.

At the IAA MOBILITY, Continental presented its roadmap for future brake systems that increase safety and sustainability in equal measure. Semi-dry brake system uses “dry” electromechanical brakes on the rear axle that do not require brake fluid. Therefore, there is no need to fill and bleed the brake system during production. It reduces the amount of hazardous old brake fluid that has to disposed of properly after every change by many millions of litres. Continental also unveiled the most sustainable product UltraContact NXT tire in the industry at its TechShow this summer. Comprising up to 65 percent renewable, recycled and mass balance-certified materials, the UltraContact NXT combines a high share of sustainable materials with maximum safety. Apart from this, ContiTech too uses natural and renewable raw materials in the development of the surfaces, as well as recycled and reclaimed materials with low emissions. The surface solutions plant in Pune manufactures Acella Eco surface materials. This is proving to be popular in India as a replacement for real leather as premium interiors are an important selection criterion for the end user. The solvent-free and thus low-odor decorative material is hard-wearing and is available in a two-color design. In addition to Acella Eco, the plan is also to manufacture the environmentally compatible Yorn and Yorn Light expanded foils. We are also actively promoting and contributing to the growth of sustainability in the cruise industry with our upholstery material, skai VyP Coffee. We are constantly exploring new sustainable trends in surface materials.

Continental is working towards creating a responsible value chain where each stakeholder including suppliers, and customers creates ecological, economic, and social value for society. Working with responsible suppliers and vendors and leveraging automation, Continental has set the target of increasing its waste recycling rate to 95 percent by 2030.

For example, since 2020, we have been purchasing green electricity for all plants globally. Further, we rely on self-generated energy, specially designed green power purchase agreements, and energy attribute certificates (EACs). These certify from which sources and from which locations the green electricity originates. Coming closer to home – In India, we have adopted various measures to take us closer to our goals. 97 percent of the energy used in Bengaluru plant is from renewable sources.   Continental has now developed a way of using these leftovers as a sustainable raw material for its surface products and minimizing CO2 emissions along the entire value chain and focusing on long-lasting products and solutions.

 

The concept of intelligent mobility is gaining traction globally. How is Continental leveraging its expertise to develop intelligent mobility solutions and contribute to the advancement of connected and autonomous vehicles?

We are leveraging our expertise in a variety of areas, including sensors, software, and connectivity, to develop intelligent mobility solutions that will make driving safer, more efficient, and more enjoyable.

Continental follows a redundant multi-sensor approach for assisted and automated driving and offers a broad component portfolio of high-resolution cameras, lidars, ultrasonic sensors and the corresponding control units. The company can offer solutions for all aspects of vehicle parking, ranging from assistance systems to fully autonomous functions. Radar systems combined with high-resolution cameras are ideal for enabling vehicle parking. In addition, they are so compact that radars can be easily and safely mounted behind all painted bumpers and cameras, for example, in the exterior mirrors. The solution could thus replace ultrasonic sensors to improve design and performance. It also meets NCAP safety requirements.

Recently, we have developed a full-stack system solution that relieves the driver of manual parking of the vehicle in an intuitive and safe way called, The Automated Parking Fusion System. The parking solution combines proprietary ultrasonic sensor design with surround view technology, a state-of-the-art AI based camera perception. It uses “human vision” with “computer vision”. The basic version provides a clear 360-degree 3D image and supports the driver when parking and manoeuvring in low speed. Its attractive cost structure makes it suitable for the entry-level system. It is also an important pillar for further development towards automated driving functions because of the use of algorithms based on artificial intelligence (AI).

We also recently collaborated with Ambarella to pave the way towards Autonomous Mobility. Compared to other solutions, Ambarella’s “CV3-AD” AI SoC family processes sensor data faster and more efficiently. This enables safer mobility and also ensures up to five times higher energy efficiency. This system helps in reducing the battery weight by several kilograms and decrease both the power consumption and the cooling requirements.

Continental also partnered with Aurora Innovation, Inc. to release the first commercially scalable autonomous system for the commercial vehicle industry in the United States. In case of a failure in the primary autonomy system of the vehicle, the fallback system is designed to ensure a driverless truck can continue the driving task until it reaches a safe position.

With driverless parking or Automated Valet Parking on the rise, self-parking has become a thing of the past. Several autonomous parking functions are currently under development and automated valet parking is one of them. It provides greater safety and convenience to the driver while avoiding minor accidents.

Software Defined Vehicle (SDV) is the next evolutionary stage in vehicle development. Vehicles already have to process up to 150 million lines of code. Modern vehicles often have more than 100 control units installed for driving safety and assistance or comfort. In order to be able to transfer large amounts of data to and from the cloud, we develop powerful software for processing, managing and distributing all this data. With the Continental Automotive Edge (CAEdge) framework, we are relying on a modular solution and, together with Amazon Web Services (AWS), are establishing a new approach for the efficient development of software for service-oriented vehicle architectures in the automotive industry.

Continental recently announced a partnership with Google Cloud during its press conference at the IAA MOBILITY 2023. Together, the two companies are equipping cars with generative Artificial Intelligence (AI), making Continental one of the first automotive suppliers to integrate Google Cloud capabilities directly into vehicle computers. With this, drivers can interact with their car in a natural dialogue.

 

The automotive industry is heavily influenced by emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), and 5G. How is Continental embracing these technologies to enhance its products and services?

The automotive industry is being shaped by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning making the car smart, safe and more personalized. Thus, making the car more powerful using IOT and 5G network will be utilized in its full capacity.

AI in automotive industry has brought changes and significant innovations in automobiles. Continental collaborated with Apex.AI which help in significantly shortening the development cycles of new mobility functions, especially for automated and autonomous driving, in line with the highest safety standards.

5G will be a crucial enabler technology for future mobility, providing significant network enhancements and benefits. Real-time communication between vehicles, infrastructure, and an ever-growing number of connected devices will be possible because of increased data speed, improved dependability, and ultra-fast reaction times. As a result, 5G will assist to improve driving safety, comfort, and efficiency even more. One example of how this will work effectively is CoSmA with Ultra-Wideband technology, which has already proven its success in 5G and Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X). CoSmA makes the smartphone a digital vehicle key, effectively replacing conventional key fobs. It allows the user to access, unlock and start the car using his or her own smartphone. The on-board architecture of the CoSmA solution also features a central electronic computer unit with a state-of-the-art secure element as certified secure storage for any digital vehicle key application. The vehicle owner can generate and manage multiple digital keys and share them with friends or family.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is further transforming the automotive industry. It enables us to provide real-time updates, remote diagnostics, and over-the-air software updates. This ensures that our products and services are constantly evolving and meeting the evolving needs of our customers.

Continental recently collaborated with toll service provider, Axxès regarding tolling services for commercial vehicle for electronic truck toll collection. Both the companies will use data that is available in the next Continental version of the smart tachograph, the VDO DTCO 4.1, and transfer it to the Axxès cloud via the Continental Road Usage Service (CRUS) platform. To ensure cloud connectivity of its customers’ fleets Axxès uses Continental’s VDO Link, a smart connectivity device that is plugged in the tachograph front interface.

Continental will also collaborate with the semiconductor manufacturer Infineon Technologies AG to develop server-based vehicle architectures. The goal is to develop an organized and efficient electrics/electronics (E/E) architecture with central high-performance computers (HPC) and a few, powerful Zone Control Units (ZCU) instead of up to a hundred or even more individual control units.

Continental embraces these emerging technologies by fostering collaborations and partnerships with leading technology companies, start-ups, and research institutions. These collaborations help us leverage our expertise and enables us to provide the latest solutions to our customers within a short span of time.

 

Continental operates globally, with a presence in various regions. Could you shed some light on the company’s international operations and the unique challenges and opportunities faced in different markets?

It is important to remember that each automotive company may have its own unique approach to technology transfer and building local expertise based on its business objectives and global strategy like establishing collaborative partnerships, set up research and development centres, and conduct knowledge exchange programs to facilitate direct knowledge transfer. 

Despite facing unique challenges across markets, we embrace significant opportunities for collaboration, innovation, and market expansion. Through a customer-centric approach, collaboration with local partners, and with an adaptable mind-set, we are well-positioned to serve global markets and contribute to the advancement of mobility worldwide.

For example, to prepare our teams for the future, the organization has established its learning centre called Continental Software Academy. The academy aims to prepare Continental globally for the software transformation that is ongoing. We have a structured upskilling approach to skill, various types of audiences based on various aspects of software, starting from awareness to basic to advance and different levels of skills. We organize transformation events globally and we undertake all these activities to support and enable software and agile transformation globally across all countries. This is steered globally from India. Software Academy focuses on skilling and reskilling employees on the latest technologies such as cyber security, AI, Machine learning, etc. Typically, programs run through the year, are curriculum-based, and require one to invest a dedicated number of hours in learning.

Our Technical Centre in India is a part of Continental’s Software and Central Technologies (SCT) organization and has an engineering workforce focused on multiple domains covering advanced safety technologies, autonomous driving, connected mobility technologies, and many other future mobility trends. The centre also actively engages with top engineering institutions in India for cutting-edge research and to build competencies in niche areas to fuel innovation.

 

Looking ahead, what are some of the key areas of focus for Continental in the coming years? Are there any upcoming projects or partnerships to share with us?

Cars are now becoming much more software defined and today, almost 40% of content in a car is software. Keeping the current trend in mind, Continental will continue to invest in Research and Development to cater to the needs and changing demands of the local market.

The electrical/electronic architectures of today’s vehicles are reaching their limits in terms of complexity and performance. Mechanical hardware is giving way to ECUs, with modern vehicles incorporating over 100 of these units. Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), connectivity, over-the-air updates, automated and autonomous driving require great amounts of computing power. Continental therefore concentrates the central computing power with corresponding functions in a few, but powerful central High-Performance Computers (HPCs), while Zone Control Units (ZCUs) ensure the reliable execution of vehicle functions. In this way decoupling of software, and hardware is supported. This is a central prerequisite for continuous updates and improvements to the “lifelong learning” vehicle.

The cockpit of the vehicle is also changing drastically along with the overall vehicle architecture. The old Analog Clusters are now being replaced with big, panel to panel display screens. Continental is working on developing technologies and screens that will entertain the passengers without disturbing the driver. We introduced the In2visible display which is a revolutionary dashboard innovation where the in-vehicle display is only visible, when necessary. This not only reduces the amount of unnecessary information while driving but also improves the concentration ensuring the safety of passengers.

Safety of 2-wheelers is also one of our main priorities. India is the largest 2-wheeler market in the world, and this has necessitated prioritising the introduction of safety technologies by the automotive industry in the country. High-end solutions, such as ARAS (Advanced Rider Assistance Systems) technologies have a lot of potential in markets like India. Under ARAS, Continental has introduced technologies like Blind Spot Detection, Forward Collision Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control and Emergency Brake Assist.

As the amount of software is increasing in the vehicles, cybersecurity will continue to be a major area of focus for the automotive industry.

As the automotive industry becomes more interconnected, collaboration with other stakeholders becomes crucial. How does Continental approach partnerships and collaborations to drive innovation and address industry challenges?

Continental believes in the power of partnerships and collaborations to drive innovation and address industry challenges. We approach partnerships with an open mind set, strategically identifying areas where collaboration can bring the most value. By collaborating with industry peers, start-ups, research institutions, and other stakeholders, we can combine our strengths, leverage collective expertise, and foster innovation.

Continental collaborates with research institutions and academia to access specialized knowledge and drive technological advancements. For example, this year, Continental, IIT Delhi, and Raised Lines Foundation partnered to deploy “OnBoard,” a technology aiding visually impaired individuals in boarding public buses in India. OnBoard addresses challenges such as identifying bus routes and locating bus doors through audio cues.

With the help of the already certified meta operating system Apex.OS, we will significantly shorten the development cycles of new mobility functions, especially for automated and autonomous driving, in line with the highest safety standards. Our investment in Apex.AI is an important step into the future.

Continental and Aurora have agreed upon a hardware-as-a-service business relationship, based on mileage driven, to deliver safe, reliable, uptime-optimized and commercially scalable autonomous driving systems to customers through the Aurora Horizon platform.

Continental and Ambarella, Inc., an edge AI Semiconductor Company, announced a strategic partnership to jointly develop scalable, end-to-end hardware and software solutions based on artificial intelligence (AI), for assisted and automated driving (AD), on the way to autonomous mobility.

We also partnered with Google Cloud. This partnership aims to equip cars with generative Artificial Intelligence (AI), making Continental one of the first automotive suppliers to integrate Google Cloud capabilities directly into vehicle computers. This will enable the drivers to interact with their car in a natural dialogue.

Finally, with the world evolving at an unprecedented pace, what is your vision for the future of mobility? How do you see Continental contributing to this transformative journey?

Software is increasingly becoming an important part of the automotive industry and is the oil of future. Today’s cars have 100 million lines of code and by 2030 its predicted that it could be 300 million lines of codes and we will also have many more devices connected to the internet.

Continental’s vision for the future of mobility revolves around software-driven, high-performance vehicles that prioritize safety, autonomy, and an enhanced user experience.

We follow, ‘in the market, for the market’ approach where we develop customized solutions to suit the needs of the local population. As India is a developing economy, its technological needs are different from the developed market. Through our localization efforts, we aim to offer affordable solutions to customers by adapting sophisticated technologies like telematics and scaling the functionality at an affordable price through R&D.

Continental operates globally, with a strong presence in various regions across the world. Our international operations allow us to serve diverse markets and cater to the specific needs and preferences of customers in each region. We have established a comprehensive network of production facilities, research and development centres, and sales offices to ensure proximity to our customers and enable us to provide tailored solutions.

Gathering data on local preferences, driving habits, and consumer trends is essential. This requires investments in market research, data analysis, and possibly even consumer surveys. The cost varies depending on the depth and scale of research conducted.

Similarly, we also believe in the power of standardization. Therefore, following a centralized approach in the software development process can help form an open source for everyone to develop in the automotive industry. Thus, we can prepare systems that run on updates and will not get outdated.