12 Jul 2024
The voice of the independent garage sector

Q&A: Continental

Aftermarket speaks to one of the experts at Continental about the seasonal tyres opportunity and how garages can capitalise on this


Many garages still do not make the most of the tyre opportunity. Beyond making sure customer vehicles are as well-shod as possible with the best tyres, there are wider prospects.
For example, most drivers in the UK have never thought about changing their tyres with the seasons, something that is much more common in other European countries. This is just one facet of a larger market where independents are well-placed to take a foothold.
To find out more, Aftermarket spoke to Steve Howat, Head of Technical Services at Continental Tyres UK and Ireland.

What’s the difference between premium and budget tyres?
One of the key factors that pushes the performance of a premium tyre forward is the ever-increasing technical requirements from the vehicle manufacturers. They have to meet stringent emissions requirements – like WLTP regulations – which have a direct impact on the technical requirements of the tyres they specify. Rolling resistance – and its effect on fuel economy and range – is a key consideration from an environmental point of view, but at the same time wet grip performance and other safety requirements cannot be compromised. A high level of technical capability is required to find the right balance and achieve these requirements on all fronts.
At Continental we have more than 150 years of experience in developing tyres, which gives us a wealth of knowledge and experience that budget tyre manufacturers can’t compete with.
We use advanced polymer technology and innovative materials in our tyres, to enhance their performance, and to deliver sustainability benefits. As an example, we were the world’s first tyre manufacturer to launch recycled polyester yarn which is obtained from PET plastic bottles. This high-performance material is known as ContiRe.Tex. Earlier this year we also launched our most sustainable tyre to date, the UltraContact NXT. With up to 65 percent renewable, recycled and mass balance certified materials, it combines a remarkably high share of sustainable materials with maximum safety and performance.

What’s the difference between EV and ICE tyres?
We don’t categorise our tyres as EV or ICE-specific, because of the risk of over-simplification and confusion around which tyres can be fitted to which vehicles.

There is huge variety within both vehicle types. If we look at EVs for example, a Renault Zoe is very different to a Tesla Model S. That’s why we always recommend identifying the right tyres for each vehicle on a case-by-case basis.

The best way to go about it is to opt for a like-for-like replacement for the tyres the ICE or electric vehicle came with when new, otherwise known as OE (original equipment) tyres. This means the vehicle remains as the manufacturer intended – covering everything from safety to performance and emissions.

Nine of the ten most successful manufacturers of electric vehicles worldwide chose Continental as their original equipment manufacturer thanks to its technological expertise.

Why do EVs need tyres with special features and characteristics?
Our EV original equipment is specified by nine of the ten highest-volume EV manufacturers in the world, with features designed to address any concerns about excess load, range anxiety and cabin noise. Our latest generation ranges feature an ‘EV compatible’ logo to indicate their suitability for battery powered vehicles.

Tyres for electric vehicles can carry a heavier load and have to withstand high instant torque, which can lead to higher tyre wear, meaning tyres with stronger constructions and more robust rubber compounds are needed.

With high instant torque, increased weight, the demand for a long range and lower emissions comes an even greater need for minimal rolling resistance, so tyres for EVs offer a smoother, more energy-efficient and low-impact ride.

What are the key differences between summer and winter tyres?
Composition and tread pattern are among the fundamental differences between summer and winter tyres, and they go hand in hand with changing temperatures and weather conditions.
The operating temperature range of a tyre’s compound depends on the ratio of materials it’s made from, designed to achieve the ideal blend for the intended environment and use. When you leave a plastic bucket outside during the winter, it will crack or break more easily compared to when you leave it outside in warmer weather. It’s not that different with tyres.

When temperatures approach freezing, winter tyres contain more natural rubber and remain more pliable and softer than summer tyres, meaning better traction and performance, and reducing your stopping distance when you brake. Conversely, summer tyres become hard and brittle at low temperatures, with consequences for grip and wear. The same is true in reverse. The winter tyre compound is too soft for dry asphalt, meaning it will wear out quicker in summer – not to mention the increased rolling resistance increasing your fuel consumption and road noise. Summer tyres on the other hand are designed to deliver excellent grip on wet and dry roads when it’s warm.

Now, onto the tread pattern. It’s deeper on a winter tyre, to clear away slush and dig into snow for greater traction. Summer tyres have a more streamlined tread in comparison, with fewer grooves for water clearance, maximising the contact patch with the road and delivering superior traction and braking during drier, warmer weather.

A last word, just to throw all-season tyres into the mix – a hybrid solution which combines the benefits of both summer and winter models. They’re less tailored to the specific conditions at either extreme but can be an excellent compromise in climates like ours, with relatively mild winters.

Should garages stock more winter tyres and offer them to customers?
We recently surveyed 2,000 UK motorists and found that just 8% think they have summer tyres fitted – when in fact it’s 91%.

Summer tyres dominate the UK market even though arguably we have an all-season climate. There is no legal requirement in this country for drivers to have winter capability unlike on the continent, which can be achieved with all-season or winter tyres.

Safety is our primary concern and the same should be true for retailers. It’s important to understand what drivers intend to use their vehicles for and to recommend a tyre that will deliver in terms of safety as well as performance and sustainability. Nine times out of ten this means specifying the OE approved tyre for the vehicle. Summer tyres will ultimately perform best from a handling and braking performance perspective in normal UK weather conditions – and are the best option for drivers looking to get the best out of high performance vehicles – but their lack of winter capability can present challenges during extreme weather events.