New technologies require the right solutions.
And technology as transformative as electric vehicles is going to need some big, bold ideas that not only meet the moment but emphasize safety. Across the rubber industry, auto suppliers are building those solutions, one innovation at a time.
Innovation begins at the auto maker level, and EV technology is bringing more players into the game. Startups and disruptor companies are challenging traditional OEMs to think outside the box and take leaps of faith around design and propulsion. Companies such Rivian, Canoo, Shifeng and Li Auto are bringing big ideas and new EV designs to the table.
And each of them—in addition to the traditional OEMs—need support from auto suppliers.
If anyone understands the ins and outs of tech startups, it's Continental A.G.
The automotive supplier always prided itself on its technological advancements, and the company understands that a strong competitive edge begins with solid alliances. So as Continental prepared to move quickly into the EV arena, it made a point to position itself in the middle of technical innovation.
The company opened an R&D location in Silicon Valley in 2013 and expanded its capabilities there in 2017 before its most recent move to a new, nearby location in Santa Clara, Calif.
"This is very important for us," said Rainer Kremmeicke, key account manager within ContiTech's Divergent Mobility Group and head of the company's Santa Clara location. "First of all, it (allows us to) align and engage with the universities and startups that are developing new technology and cutting-edge technology at a very fast pace.
"We are learning a lot here, not just about the technology, but about process," Kremmeicke said. "New startups and new players in the market take a quite a different approach, far (different) from the traditional business model. We are constantly learning from new businesses and new models."
Those lessons go a long way for Continental, which works to develop a number of products and systems that help EVs optimize performance, efficiency and safety.
The presence in Silicon Valley is just one small facet of the company's overall approach of maintaining a leadership position within the markets it serves. Having a global network of R&D and manufacturing facilities certainly is one of Continental's advantages, especially in the auto industry, Kremmeicke said.
"We see a lot of customers that are acting globally," Kremmeicke said. "…. We understand how to handle a global program and project, and that is one of our major strengths."
There are a lot of things that change in a vehicle that doesn't have a traditional engine. Take away the belts and pistons, motors and fans and you're left with a whole lot of space, not to mention a whole lot of quiet.
So quiet you notice it, said Kevin Riddell, LMC Automotive senior manager of powertrain forecasting.
"When you're driving along, it is completely different inside the cabin," Riddell said. "You are suddenly much more aware of gears in the gearbox turning than in the past when you had the engine."
It's not just the lack of engine noise that leads to such a quiet ride.
Because EV batteries are heavy, OEMs and suppliers are looking to lightweight the vehicle in every possible way in an effort to extend the range. They're turning to lighter-weight components and parts that only add to quiet rides.