Affordable Cars in Focus: Continental Brings Safety, Convenient Controls And Fuel Economy To All Markets
Sep 8, 2009
Automotive Group of Continental develops global solutions for the fast-growing international market for affordable cars. Demand is rising for smaller, low-cost cars. Not just in Asia and Latin America, but also in established industrialized nations.
Frankfurt am Main/Regensburg. The global automotive market is changing rapidly: within the next six years, the share of total production accounted for by low-cost vehicles is set to climb to around 20 percent. Continental's Automotive Group has responded with a comprehensive, scalable product portfolio to satisfy the growing market for small and compact cars. Continental is an international automotive supplier that develops and manufactures components and systems which deliver high quality and safety at the lowest possible prices. "Affordable cars are not of a lower quality with only the most basic of components, they are purely and simply vehicles that customers can afford. They are fitted with minimalist, market-specific functions based on state-of-the-art technology. They are tailored to customers and their regional expectations," said Helmut Matschi, President of the Interior Division and member of the Executive Board of Continental. "Affordability is not only relevant for China and India, it is now also extremely important for manufacturers and suppliers in the USA and Europe."
Affordable cars: one term with varying definitions
Affordable is the term that has become established within the automotive industry. But what does it mean exactly? Prosperity gaps and varying levels of car ownership entail varying definitions of the term "affordable car". Vehicles fitting this description in India sell to end customers for the equivalent of just under €2,000, while the lower price threshold in China and eastern Europe is around double this amount. Higher expectations in western Europe and Japan set the price limit for an "affordable" car with standard features at €10,000. For Continental, the term also covers vehicles in the small car and compact class, raising the price range to €18,000. In Japan, one in three new cars is registered as a "Kei". These small, tax-privileged vehicles are primarily bought as second cars or by people with low disposable incomes. A Kei car is considered affordable if it costs less than 1.5 million yen, around €11,000.
The challenge for automotive engineers: high-tech at low-cost
Affordable cars require highly efficient technology that is tailored to the customer and regional expectations. Potential market leaders have to adjust their products and the production processes accordingly. Continental does not just develop cost-optimized products, it also produces the requisite innovative system solutions. Engineers everywhere have to work together to turn these products and solutions into reality, combining local knowledge with the experience and expertise in the established markets. "Networking and the sharing of know-how among development engineers in the individual regions will play a crucial role in the future," says Dr. Ralf Cramer, President of the Chassis & Safety Division and member of the Executive Board at Continental. "The utilization of engineering capacities in the regions also has a part to play, as does the localization of the entire value chain: regional marketing and development, low-cost purchasing at local suppliers and a lower degree of automation in production are of crucial importance."
There also has to be a rethink of how products are defined and developed in Europe as well. What is required are shorter development cycles and an ability to supply the market with high-quality products in large volumes. As a result, the "bottom up" approach is set to gain in importance for Continental. The Body Controller is a perfect example. Under its new name of Basic Function Controller, this central control unit has become the focal point of an intelligent electronic system for the global market. It was developed from scratch and in a completely different way to its conventional counterparts for the European market. Any features without any directly discernible function for the customer were reviewed for their necessity and avoided as appropriate.
Driving forward global safety: no compromise in quality and safety
The Chassis & Safety Division has used SPEED (Safety Platform for Efficient & Economical Design) to develop a modular airbag control unit. The multi-level concept meets the demands of all global markets and allows even entry-level models to be fitted with a high-performance airbag system. The plastic housing accommodating the Airbag Control Unit consists of a metal base plate and plastic lid and can be flexibly mounted with various connectors. This makes it extremely simple to adapt the electronics to the vehicle, while benefiting from almost identical technology, standard interfaces and mass-produced components. The basic version "SPEED S" is fitted to affordable models in the small car category and is designed to control the front airbags, but side airbag control can also be added as an optional extra. The S module can control up to twelve components, such as airbags and seat-belt pre-tensioners, whereas the next level M and L versions can control up to 30.
Smaller, lighter – but also attractively priced. These were the challenges that had to be met in developing a new ABS for the industrializing markets. Smaller vehicles with less installation space made the reduction in size necessary, while lower engine outputs and lower overall vehicle weights enabled the ABS to be downsized. The MK 100® currently in development is far smaller and lighter than its MK 70 predecessor.
Buyers of affordable compacts and small cars should also be able to benefit from driver assistance systems that make the road a safer place. Preventive systems, for example, are set to become a reality in all vehicle classes following the introduction of a mid-range radar. The sensor scans the road ahead of the vehicle to a distance of up to 150 meters and warns of impending rear-end collisions.
Solutions to challenges through tighter environmental legislation
In terms of emissions legislation, the gap between western industrialized countries and the emerging markets is closing. In China, for example, the Euro 4 standard now applies in their megacities and in ten major Indian cities as well. Low emission levels can only be achieved through state-of-the-art engine management and injection systems.
In addition to the innovative 32-bit "Easy-U" engine management system, which can be flexibly adapted to the vehicle architecture, the total package from Continental's Powertrain Division includes injectors, air volume and temperature sensors, air intake controls and crankshaft and camshaft sensors. "Easy-U" was developed at Continental sites in France and China with the components manufactured in the city of Changchun. A new transmission control module, which is marketed under the name "EAST Platform", has also gone into series production at the Changchun site. It takes the form of a rapid-acting 32-bit control unit within a compact housing that can monitor and control continuously variable transmissions (CVT), automated manual transmissions (AMT), double clutch transmissions (DCT) and conventional automatic transmissions.
Stop-start systems that automatically turn off idling engines are particularly important in megacities where cutting emissions is a pressing issue. Continental's Interior Division is working on control electronics with simple designs.
Hybrid and electric drive technology is also gaining in importance. Continental, as a supplier of the complete range of hybrid technology from lithium-ion energy storage units to power electronics, is playing a significant role in promoting this technology. Several series production contracts for mild hybrid drives are currently running in China. A key role will be played by cars with purely electric drive systems, mainly intended for use in densely populated areas and for which there is increasing demand.
Cost efficiency through a platform strategy
The Interior Division already offers numerous standard products for vehicles in the lower and lowest price categories, for example immobilizers, remote control keys, parking assistance systems, air conditioning control units, radios, and the highly successful instrument clusters. Many state-of-the-art features, which were previously only installed in high-end vehicles, can now be found in affordable cars. Examples include wireless data transfer via Bluetooth, simple navigation using networked radios and keyless access and control systems. Product solutions that incorporate a diverse range of functions into one single system present an opportunity to reduce costs. A combined radio and air conditioning control unit reduces outlay for both the system and the installation. An all-in-one body computer and instrument cluster still displays the standard information required by the driver, such as speed, fuel level and temperature.
With the Basic Function Controller, the Interior Division is embarking on a platform strategy that is highly cost-effective on the one hand, yet offers the greatest possible flexibility. The central control electronics system is not adapted individually for each type of vehicle, but is available in modules. The basic module comprises standard functions such as the control of the low and high beam headlights, central locking, daytime running lights, windshield wipers and rear window defroster. The automotive manufacturer can then offer an optional package which includes functions such as remote control. The most luxurious concept offers a number of convenient functions, from the front window lifts to cruise control. An advantage of this is that the housing and hardware can be manufactured uniformly in large quantities and the sophisticated software does not have to be adapted to each individual model.
The successful Basic Function Controller (BFC) is the starting point for an expanded controller portfolio. If customers require more powerful hardware to control the various body systems, they can add a second BFC to create a decentralized network. Rapid installation of proven technology, lower unit costs due to the high production volume and a cost-effective onboard electronics system are the advantages of this solution.
A level of functionality and performance that is greater still can be achieved with the Advanced Function Controller, which has a 32-bit processor.
Affordable cars: guarantee for global mobility
Affordable cars are gaining in importance all over the world: as entry-level motorized vehicles in emerging markets, as low-cost and economical second cars in industrialized economies, or as space-saving runarounds in densely populated conurbations. In the coming years, the number of cars around the world will grow to well over 942 million, a large proportion of which will fall into the area of affordability. The small car and compact segment and the premium segment are subject to exactly the same demands: safety, focus on accident prevention and protection, fuel economy, clear information about the condition of the vehicle and simple, convenient controls. Continental Automotive Group is making this technology available to people around the world through its global network of development and production sites.
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