While some car makers are suggesting autonomous driving is still some way off, automotive systems supplier, Continental, reckons we’ll see self-driving cars by 2025 but that it won’t be until 2030 that they become commonplace…

Continental might be better known by most for its tyres, but the company likes to be known as a systems supplier and that’s because it’s the only major tyre company in the world where tyres are only 25 percent of its business. True.

At a recent experience day at Continental’s US tyre testing centre in Uvalde, Texas USA, Continental, in addition to some exciting on-track exercises, Practical Motoring was told the brand expects to see autonomous vehicles on some stretches of road around the world by 2025. But, the head of self-driving projects at Continental, Andre Hohm, said it probably won’t be until 2030 that autonomous cars become commonplace.

“People always ask me when driverless vehicles will be on the road,” he said this month at Continental’s Tech Show in Hanover, “and I tell them the answer is ‘today.’ If you have a very specific application area, for example like a private road, and want to travel at low velocity, you can buy such a vehicle.”

“Having already achieved partially automated driving, the industry is projected to achieve highly automated driving on freeways infrastructure by 2020. Continental foresees fully automated driving on certain stretches of road by 2025 – particularly on freeways. The company is on track to make this roadmap a reality in the coming future,” Continental told Practical Motoring.

To that end, Continental has built a demonstration vehicle showing off driverless capability in urban environments. Called CUbE (Continental Urban mobility Experience) the vehicle is able to drive itself around without a driver, steering wheel or brake pedal. The vehicle is being trialled in Frankfurt, Germany.

While many assumed that highways would become the first battleground for autonomous vehicles, Continental claims the game is changing and that slower-speed urban environments will be the place where the early use takes place. This, according to Hohm, is because the slower speed “give you more opportunities when systems fail or you get erroneous readings from sensors.” He did admit, however, that urban environments are more complex operating environments than highways.

But, back to some of the stats about the business. It had research and development centres in a staggering 45 locations which look at everything from tyre testing to sensors, software, engine components, electric vehicles and much more. It operates across 56 countries and at five major proving grounds for summer and winter tyre testing: Contidrom, Germany (50+ years anniversary, also has all-weather AIBA, Automated Indoor Braking Analyzer); Uvalde, Texas; Brimley, Michigan; Arvidsjaur, Sweden; and Wanaka, New Zealand.

The business employs 2000 people with 713 professional test drivers, although some work is now being done by autonomous vehicles. The driver’s test 250,000 tyres each year, driving 40 million kilometres and conducting 160 million kilometres of tyre durability tests. That’s enough to drive around the globe 4000 times.


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