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Conti broadening on/off-road LT portfolio

Continental ntroducing three tires, including two that take the company into new product segments:

  • the first-ever Continental brand all-terrain tire, the TerrainContact A/T; and
  • General Grabber X3, a product that extends the Grabber light truck dirt tire to one that is designed for use on rock, in mud and in dirt. It is the company’s first mud and rock tire.

Also new is the General Grabber Arctic, a winter tire designed for large SUV’s and pickups.

“Our dealers have asked us to expand our product lines and that’s exactly what we are doing here,” said Jim Sicking, Continental’s director of sales in an interview following the Gold program business meeting.

Asked why it took so long to add these product lines, Mr. Sicking said the company had to wait until it had enough production capacity. “It makes no sense to launch a new segment when you can’t supply current products,” he said.

Today, product supply is no longer an issue at Continental in the U.S. compared with three or four years ago, Mr. Sicking said, as new capacity has come on stream at Continental A.G. plants worldwide. This includes the two-year old facility in Sumter, S.C., that continues to ramp up production of passenger and light truck tires and has been earmarked for expansion.

Conti also has added light truck tire capacity at its factory in Mt. Vernon, Ill., including for building three-ply tires.

While there is no formal way to measure fill rates, Mr. Sicking said Conti’s major distributors say the company is either No. 1 or No. 2 in fill rates in the industry over the last two or three years,

The introduction of new products is part of a list of wants Gold dealers have expressed to Continental executives in two surveys conducted over the past four years, which have served to guide the Gold leadership team as it strives to improve the program.

These suggestions include: keeping the program competitive, help with profitability, the need for more supply, frequency of contact with sales reps and improving brand awareness.

Continental has made progress in all areas, the executives said, highlighted this year with the introduction of the three new tires.

The Continental TerrainContact A/T is so new, in fact, that the company was unable to get one to show dealers at the beginning of the conference. It was set to arrive after the business meeting concluded but before Gold Elite dealers returned home several days later.

In researching plans to introduce the TerrainContact A/T, the company was surprised to learn that one third of roads in the U.S. are not paved, according to Joe Maher, product manager -- passenger. “So you really need to have off-road and on-road capability,” he said.

The market for off-road tires for light trucks and SUVs is estimated at 26 million units, meaning “37 percent of the industry we have not participated in at all,” he said of the Conti brand.

Conti is targeting the owner of late-model pickup trucks and SUVs with the TerrainContact A/T.

“In many cases these are the premium fitments where they want a tire that looks like an all-terrain tire, has capability of an all-terrain tire but they really are very interested in on-road performance, because they are doing the majority of their driving on road,” Mr. Maher said. “But they need off-road traction for some event in their life,” such as towing, driving to a mountain home, etc.

These vehicle owners value a quiet ride and good wet traction and want the tire to look like an off-road product, he said.

The new tire features Conti’s Traction Plus Technology, which provides a combination of off-road capability and good road manners, according to Mr. Maher.

For off-road driving, the tire has an open, high-void tread pattern providing lots of gripping surfaces, he said. It also has large stable tread blocks for durability.

To reduce noise, Conti has designed the tire with noise blocking elements in the shoulders to keep the sound trapped inside the tread, Mr. Maher said.

For wet traction Continental used a patented-plus silane in the tread compound, an additive that bonds polymers and gives performance on wet or slippery roads.

The tire features an all-season tread design with traction grooves for grip on snow and full-depth siping that allows it to perform well both when new and as the tire wears. Sidewall styling is raised outline white lettering.

Continental spent three years designing the TerrainContact A/T, Mr. Maher said. This includes 100-plus hours of computer simulations, the testing of 1,500 tires, 12,000 hours of machine testing, 1 million miles of machine testing and over 2 million miles tested.

“So before the product actually gets ready to go to market there is a lot of work that’s done...by our developing team...to make sure it’s targeted for the consumer and that it is easy to sell for the dealer,” he said.

The TerrainContact A/T will come with a 60,000-mile treadwear warranty, a 60-day trial period, three years of roadside assistance, 12-month road hazard coverage, a 72-month manufacturer’s warranty and a U.T.Q.G. rating of 680 AB in S- and T-speed rated sizes and 680 AA on H-speed rated sizes and above.

Continental will offer the tire in 35 sizes covering 80 percent of the premium tire market, including 20 metric sizes with 12/32nd inch of tread depth covering 45- to 75-series aspect ratios and 16- to 22-inch rim diameters.

In addition the tire will come in 15 LT metric sizes with 16/32nd inch of tread depth, 60- to 80-series aspect ratios and 16- to 20-inch rim diameters.

Conti will begin shipping the tire in September, with full availability scheduled for November.

Joining the TerrainContact A/T in the Continental tire lineup is the General Grabber X3, which will replace the Grabber red-letter sidewall tire.

“The X3 is a tire that has a much broader appeal” than the previous tire, Mr. Maher said, and is designed for use in mud, dirt, rock and on-road applications.

It is targeted at true off-road vehicles, 4X4 trucks, any vehicle from the OE wheel to completely modified vehicles for off-road use.

Like the TerrainContact A/T, Conti spent three years developing the Grabber X3. The company tested 16 different tread patterns, as the tread is especially important to off-road performance, Mr. Maher said. All told the company spent 500 hours testing the tire off-road at its test track in Uvalde, Texas, tested more than 1,000 individual tires and invested over 20,000 man hours in testing. Overall, the tire underwent more than 2 million miles of testing, including being competition-driver approved.  

The Grabber X3 features an aggressive tread pattern, including a strong muscular-looking off shoulder that offers additional performance capabilities, Mr. Maher said. Sidewall styling includes black lettering as well as red-outline lettering in select sizes.

For grip in the mud, the tire features a high-void tread pattern that includes large, self-cleaning evacuation channels.  Alternating shoulder scoops in the tread also help remove mud.

For driving on dirt, the tire employs stone bumpers that help to release stones embedded in the tread blocks. This also minimizes stone drilling and enhances puncture resistance.

To aid in driving on rock, the tire features multi-angle gripping edges that provide traction in every direction. In addition side-grip deflection pads help protect the tire body but also add grip to the sidewall and shoulder area of the tire.

The tire comes with a three-ply construction in all sizes and a multi-pitch tread pattern to reduce noise on the road.

Conti will offer the Grabber X3 in 29 sizes and 42 articles. This includes 13 flotation sizes with 21/32nd inch of tread depth, in 15- to 21-inch rim diameters and 10.5- to 13-inch widths. The tire also will be available in 16 light truck metric sizes, with 18/32nd inch of tread depth, 55- to 75-series aspect ratios and 16- to 20-inch rim diameters.

For winter driving, Continental is adding the General Grabber Arctic designed for large SUVs and pickups. The tire is positioned between the Grabber Arctic LT and the General Altimax Arctic.

Mr. Maher said the Grabber Arctic offers a high level of comfort compared to standard passenger tires and all sizes are extra-load rated for maximum market coverage.

The tire is designed with a robust tread compound, ultra-high-strength steel belts and a broad contour.

For traction in snow and ice, Grabber Arctic employs winter traction technologies, two different kinds of siping technology, is pinned for studs and has tread-block reinforcement buttresses that help create stability on high center of gravity vehicles.  

Conti will offer the tire in 15 sizes, replacing seven sizes of the Altimax Arctic and adding eight new sizes. The tire will be available starting in the fall.

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