Continental, one of the largest tire and automotive technology suppliers in the world, is celebrating its 150th year in business in 2021. The company was founded in Hanover, Germany, in 1871. Over the next 15 decades, Continental transformed from a local manufacturer of tires and soft rubber products to an international technology company.
Today, Continental has nearly 15,000 employees in the United States. Worldwide, three out of every four vehicles on the road are equipped with the company’s tires or automotive technologies. An estimated one billion people place their trust in Continental every day.
Throughout this year, Continental will celebrate the company’s esteemed history with stories on how it became a driving force of technological progress. Before cars were even invented, the company began by manufacturing horse “hoof buffers” along with solid tires for carriages and bicycles. In 1904, Continental was the first company in the world to develop automobile tires with a patterned tread, and four years later invented the detachable rim. On the year of its 50th anniversary, in 1921, Continental produced its first commercial truck tires, and became the first German company to produce tires reinforced with pliable cords rather than linen fabric. Six years later, it launched the very first pneumatic tractor tire in Europe.
Did you know? Until 1926, tires were white due to the use of natural rubber latex. Carbon black was added in 1926 as a reinforcing agent to give the tire more resistance to wear and aging. It also gave tires their new characteristic color: black.
The following decades saw continued innovation. In 1955, Continental was the first company to develop air springs for trucks and buses, and the first German company to start manufacturing tubeless car tires, which it had patented after World War II. By the 1960s, widespread production of radial tires had begun, and Continental employed 26,800 people. It revolutionized the solid tire segment, which are used on forklift trucks, airport vehicles, and other heavy-duty industrial applications, with its ContiSuperElastic tires, leading to what is today the industry standard abbreviation for the category: CSE. In 1967, the company opened the Contidrom test track, which is still used as a global standard today in tandem with the Uvalde Proving Grounds in Texas, where tires have been tested since 1959.
By 1988, the company had almost doubled in size, employing 45,900 people around the world. It had acquired Uniroyal and Semperit in Europe, and General Tire in the United States. Within the next 10 years, the company reinforced its position as a global tire manufacturer by adding sites in Central and South America, Africa, and Eastern Europe. After a 10-year hiatus, Continental re-entered the OTR construction and mining tires segment in 2015, and shortly thereafter restarted production of radial agricultural tires.
Continental has been recognized as a premium tire manufacturer throughout its history, and the tradition continues today,expanded with additional technologies. In 2019, Continental was one of the two most recognized brands in U.S. Consumer Reports’ top tire picks, tying for first place in the all-season light truck category and taking second place in three others. The same year, the company’s commercial fleet monitoring solution, ContiConnect Yard Reader, was named a top new product by Constructech, Construction Equipment, and Today’s Trucking magazines.
In 1968, the first electronically controlled driverless car took to the track at the Contidrom, to the amazement of the press and public. More than 400 news outlets reported on the event, with one publication calling it the “Ghost Car.” The car was used to test the performance of Continental’s tires. But the company didn’t stop there.
In 2007, Continental became one of the top five largest automotive suppliers worldwide, and remains involved in actively shaping the future of mobility. In 2012, a highly automated Continental test vehicle was launched in the U.S., covering 15,000 miles of public roads – without any accidents. Today, Continental has a global fleet of automated and autonomous driving test vehicles. They collect data covering more than 9,000 miles per day. The result is around 100 terabytes of data and corresponds to around 50,000 hours of driving footage.
A supercomputer evaluates these test drives and creates virtual worlds in which further real test drives can be simulated. This virtual simulation enables up to 5,000-mile test drives per hour, helping to significantly shorten development times for automated and autonomous driving technologies.
This year, at one of the largest consumer electronics shows in the world, Continental was recognized with three CES 2021 Innovation Awards. This marked Continental’s eighth CES Innovation Award and fifth consecutive year being recognized for its mobility innovations.
The Continental Logo
Continental adopted the “rampant horse” as its logo around 1875. It began with a local veterinarian named Hartmann who invented “hoof buffers” made from soft rubber, designed to prevent horses from slipping on icy surfaces. He held the patent, while Continental produced and distributed them.
But the broader significance of the horse stems from the company’s roots in Hanover, Germany; the thoroughbred racing horse of the same name is a traditional symbol in the region. It first appeared on the coat of arms for the Dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg in the 14th century and is still in use today in the German state of Lower Saxony.
The rampant horse is one of the most familiar trademarks in the automotive industry, symbolizing strength, agility and endurance. The horse has evolved over the years but remains an iconic symbol of the Continental brand.
A strong supporter of soccer, Continental’s soccer roots date back to the 1950s when the company became an exclusive partner of Hannover 96, a German professional soccer club, as two players of the 1954 championship team worked for Continental. Since then, Continental has expanded its partnerships around the world.
In 1995, Continental began sponsoring the European UEFA Champions League and EURO tournaments, and sponsored the FIFA World Cup from 2003 to 2014. In the U.S. and Canada, Continental has sponsored Major League Soccer since 2010. The company also sponsors national and local teams in countries such as Spain, Ireland, and Mexico.
Continental was also one of the first active sponsors of international women’s soccer. Continental supports teams from the U.S., UK and Ireland in this once male-dominated field.
Continental began manufacturing bicycle tires from the very beginning, in 1871. The company’s bicycle tire portfolio offers options for racing bikes, mountain bikes, cross-country bikes or trekking bikes. To showcase its leadership in this segment, Continental has placed its premium bicycle tires on the main stage, becoming synonymous with success in the Tour de France. Eight out of 10 Tours in the last decade have been won on Continental tires.
The Special Edition Grand Prix 5000 is the new era in cycling. With the legendary BlackChili Compound, it delivers the best balance of grip and rolling resistance. Continental is not only a Main Partner to the Tour, but one of the most successful equipment suppliers. All the official Tour vehicles are fitted with PremiumContact 6 tires.
Continental has also partnered with the athletic shoe company Adidas. The collaboration with adidas began in 2010 when adidas enlisted the expertise of Continental for the rubber soles of its shoes. The development engineers at Continental set out to determine what ideal natural and synthetic rubber compounds would make a significant difference to an athlete’s performance – regardless of weather conditions, temperature, or running surface. The result of the efforts is a sole that offers 30 percent more traction, a reduction in slip, and more efficient running than ever before. Today, Continental rubber is used on the soles of over 137 models of shoes. The shoe partnership has seen one Guinness World Record, two Olympic medals, and three marathon world records – just to name a few.
Continental also has a storied history in racing. Continental pneumatic tires were used on the first Daimler Mercedes, which achieved a sensational victory in the 1901 Nice-Salon-Nice car race. All three podium winners at the 1914 French Grand Prix were Daimlers fitted with Continental tires.
Between 1935 and 1940, Mercedes and Auto-Union (known as Audi today) cars fitted with Continental racing tires have a formidable streak of racing triumphs. Four consecutive victories in the German Grand Prix, four wins in the North African Tripoli race, three in Italy, plus numerous speed records help racing drivers like Rudolf Caracciola, Berndt von Rosemeyer and Hans Stuck achieve international fame.
In 1951, in close collaboration with Daimler-Benz and Porsche, Continental repeated its prewar successes on the racetrack. Racing in cars fitted with Continental tires, drivers such as Karl Kling, Stirling Moss, and Juan Manuel Fangio won the 1952 Carrera Panamericana and the French, British, Dutch and Italian Grand Prix. But Continental didn’t limit its high-speed tires to professional racers. In 2003, the company unveiled the ContiSportContact 2 Vmax, the world’s first road tire approved for speeds of up to 224 mph (360 kph). Later, Continental was officially recognized by Guinness World Records for selling the fastest road-legal tires in the world.
Continental continues to innovate in the UHP segment with the Continental tire brand as well as acquired brands. In 2016, the company acquired Hoosier Racing Tire Corp., who continues to supply tires for most racing applications throughout the world.
Continental most recently partnered with Extreme E – the most extreme racing series in the world. Utilizing pure electric vehicles, the drivers need a reliable tire that provides grip, traction and excellent performance at every stage of the race, but also a tire that can handle the heavier electric SUV which delivers extra torque upon starting and acceleration.
Continental provides the tailor-made CrossContact tire for all competitors, delivering the necessary grip as drivers explore a wide range of conditions from scorching heat to blistering cold, and muddy, sandy or even icy roads. But the company contributes more than tires: Its ContiConnect technology enables the drivers and teams to monitor their tire data in real-time. The system measures tire information like tire pressure, tread depth and temperature via sensors in the tires and transfers it in real-time, enabling the team to adjust their race strategy if necessary.
In addition to its partnership with Extreme E, the company has been active in sustainability initiatives throughout its history. Continental was the first manufacturer to launch an environmentally friendly passenger tire, the ContiEcoContact, in 1991. Today, the ContiEcoContact is now in its fifth generation and continues to be ranked best-in-class by independent tests.
Continental was also the first to release a prototype commercial truck tire made of alternative natural rubber in 2016, using its Taraxagum rubber from dandelions. Two years later, the Urban Taraxagum bicycle tire became the first serial tire to be manufactured using natural rubber from the dandelion plant. The bicycle tires were showcased at the 2020 Tour de France and are available for consumers to purchase.
Continental also contributes to the sustainability of the manufacturing industry. In March 2019, the company announced an open source, eco-friendly dip technology called Cokoon. This new technology bonds textiles and rubber without the use of resorcinol and formaldehyde in the textile dip. Textiles are widely used as reinforcing materials in tire manufacturing, as well as in the production of mechanical rubber goods such as hoses and conveyor belts. The series production of the first of 250,000 passenger car tires featuring their new sustainable adhesive technology began in 2019.
Continental’s Vision 2030 integrates sustainable and responsible business as a key ambition. By 2050, the company aims to reach: 100% carbon neutrality along its entire value chain, including products, operations, and supply; 100% emission-free mobility and industries; 100% circular economy with closed resource and product cycles; and 100% responsible sourcing and business partnerships.