Epoch-making innovation: One hundred years of Continental tyres with tread pattern (Hanover, July 2004) This year Continental is celebrating a centenary. In 1904 the company, which was then known as 'Continental Caoutchouc- und Gutta-Percha Compagnie', launched the first car tyre featuring a tread pattern. Drivers of the few cars then licensed in Germany particularly appreciated the faster starting and stopping - the result of improved traction and braking performance thanks to the tread pattern tyres from Hanover. Being able to avoid skidding on wet roads was a further benefit of these tyres. Today tyres with tread pattern are required by law for road use. The various designs produced by tyre developers enable them to meet wide-ranging requirements - from good grip, water dispersion and comfort to low rolling resistance and high mileage performance. Tyres without a tread pattern are now no longer allowed in road use and are only found in motor sports. Up until 1904, however, it was quite usual to drive around on slicks. As cars became faster, though, driving characteristics and safety proved a problem for tyres without any tread pattern. In 1904, six years after production of pneumatic tyres for cars began, Continental launched the first tyres with a tread pattern. The engineers had been inspired by the 'anti-slipping' bicycle tyres successfully introduced ten years previously.
The new tread pattern tyres were initially fitted to the cars' rear wheels, ensuring better braking and driving performance than the previously used smooth pneumatic tyres ever could. This 'epoch-making innovation', as the tread pattern tyre was then referred to in a newspaper advertisement, was soon extremely popular.
Those days car tyres were more than a metre high and nine centimetres wide at the most, with an inflation pressure of over 6 bar. This prevented the extremely narrow tyre from popping off the rim. However, the high inflation pressure made the tyre hard and, since the roads were pretty poor, the journey uncomfortable.
Early last century, tyre performance was around 500 kms (just over 300 miles) - and even that was only achieved with the help of tyre repairs on longer trips. The addition of carbon black years later made the tyres more resistant and today standard tyres often manage a hundred times that mileage performance.
The longitudinal grooves on the flattened and raised tread strip used those days cannot of course be compared with the tread patterns of today. The sophisticated design of modern tyre tread patterns turns building the tyre moulds into a great challenge. The most important task of the tread pattern is still, however, the dispersion of water on the road after the rain, since this impairs the tyre's ground contact. This is why tyres were already very useful for motorists a hundred years ago, as they were a 'truly effective means of avoiding skidding in the wet'. A leaflet dating back to that period lists eleven different sizes - Continental's size range now features a good 2,200 items for car and 4x4 tyres alone.
There have been quite a few developments in the field of tyres since 1904 - from the lug and rib tread design to the directionally-orientated arrow-shaped tread pattern, via sophisticated tread lug geometry, fine sipes, computer-optimised pitch sequence, Crossed Linked Sipes and honeycomb sipes, plus asymmetrical design, Continental's engineers have developed different tread patterns for a whole range of applications. There are car tyres for compact, medium range and luxury vehicles, as well as for 4x4s. Sporty and super-sporty tyres approved for speeds up to 360 km/h (225 mph) differ in every way, including in their tread pattern, from tyres developed for compact cars and limousines. For vans and MPVs there are tyres specifically designed to cope with higher loads and special applications. Winter tyres for all vehicles contrast strongly with summer tyres in their tread pattern and compound.
One hundred years of Continental tyres with tread patterns - this is a story which will continue to run. Nowadays tyre development focuses on the complex interplay of tyre substructure, tread compound and tread pattern design. The more these different components are co-ordinated, the safer, more comfortable and long-lasting a tyre will be. After all, consumers and Original Equipment customers expect an ideal product that is tailored to their requirements.
The Continental Group is a leading supplier of braking systems, suspension components, vehicle electronics, tyres and technical elastomers. In 2003 the company employed some 69,000 staff and achieved a turnover of 11.5 billion euros.
The tyre business unit is an Official Partner of the 2006 FIFA World Cup GermanyTM.For further information visit the websites www.conti-online.com and www.ContiFanWorld.com.
Klaus Engelhart Lars Döhmann