43 million square kilometers – 14,000 km from north to south, around 5,000 km from west to east – and more than 900 million people in 35 countries. Marco Rabe and his team from Research and Development (R&D) come across a lot of different requirements. “Customer expectations can cover almost all extremes,” says the Director Truck Tire Technology, Continental Tire The Americas.
“The US market is mature, where fleets are looking for complete solutions – not just tires.” A single fleet customer can purchase more than 500,000 tires and retreads per year, states the R&D expert. “On one hand – due to their large purchasing power – these fleets are used to their demands being taken very seriously.” But on the other hand, as Rabe continues, these fleets have the resources to track tire performance and truck performance closely. “So they are also a great partner in terms of product feedback.”
The countries in South America are extremely diverse. While there are none of the super-sized USA fleets, which consist of more than 10,000 trucks, fleets in South American countries are monitoring tire performance even closer, since they are very cost conscious. “The tools are not always highly sophisticated and may only involve a pencil and paper, but fleets will negotiate based on how our tires perform,” Rabe explains. Two reasons why tire performance is crucial are the very different fuel prices and the diverse road conditions in these countries: Just like the fuel price can range from 30 cents per gallon to 10 dollars per gallon, the routes vary from unpaved roads leading to mines to badly maintained paved roads, all the way to excellent highways, declares Rabe. “So depending on regions within a country, we design robust products to deal with a range of requirements. Safety is often an important topic and the availability of service is often not guaranteed.” This means customers are highly dependent on robust tires that do not cause a breakdown. “So while we focus on penetrating the mature markets with best-in-class products, we are also very busy learning about developing markets in order to supply the right products at the lowest price possible,” Rabe sums up.
Providing the customers with what they need is essential for our success that is why Continental gets as close to the customers as possible. “We make sure that all of our tire developers join the sales team regularly to meet with customers and see their product performance first-hand,” Rabe explains. Nothing compares to first-hand experience and feedback.
One example: tires for sugarcane fleets in Brazil. They are used in a specific sugarcane-growing region and R&D Americas has a local engineer, who travels with the sales force, to regularly visit the customers there and test the products in the field. With knowledge gained in this way Continental will pilot a new “Robust Hybrid” segment in northern Brazil.