Orig­i­nal thinkers

Car brands buy in nuts, bollts — and very clever tech. John Carey rates an out­stand­ing Ger­man sup­plier

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FEATURE -

CAR mak­ers don’t de­serve all of the credit they get for in­no­va­tion. Most peo­ple be­lieve the com­pany that stuck the badges on the nose and tail thought of ev­ery­thing in be­tween, but this isn’t the case.

Quite of­ten the smartest new stuff was brain­stormed by the likes of Ger­man com­po­nent sup­plier Con­ti­nen­tal.

More than half of what you pay for when buy­ing a new car was made by com­po­nent sup­pli­ers — by value, their prod­ucts can ac­count for about 70 per cent or more of what a car cost to make.

Ma­jor sup­pli­ers em­ploy more peo­ple and make more money than some car brands. Con­ti­nen­tal, for ex­am­ple, has more than 220,000 em­ploy­ees world­wide and its sales last year to­talled about $60 bil­lion.

Any­one who has heard of Con­ti­nen­tal knows that it makes tyres. But round rub­ber things ac­count for just a quar­ter of its global busi­ness — its four other di­vi­sions sup­ply parts as sim­ple as plas­tic hoses or as com­plex as the sen­sors and com­put­ing de­vices needed to make a self-driv­ing car.

To keep its car-mak­ing cus­tomers com­ing back for more, Con­ti­nen­tal needs to keep com­ing up with fresh ideas. And some of its lat­est, among the many dis­played at its re­cent Tech Show 2017 in Hanover, Ger­many, are wild.

Its boffins have vir­tu­ally rein­vented the wheel, fig­ured out how to do great car au­dio with­out speak­ers and have an idea that will make elec­tric ve­hi­cles more af­ford­able and more use­ful. When you see these tech­nolo­gies make it into pro­duc­tion, you’ll know who re­ally de­serves the credit …


Great sound with no speak­ers? Sounds mad but the sound qual­ity in a cur­rent Mercedes­Benz C-Class equipped with a pro­to­type Speakerless Au­dio sys­tem was bril­liant.

“Ev­ery­thing you have heard is an ex­cited sur­face,” ex­plains Con­ti­nen­tal en­gi­neer Jens Friedrich af­ter the im­pres­sive demon­stra­tion.

What this means, in plain language, is that the au­dio setup uses tiny vi­brat­ing ac­tu­a­tors to make parts of the car it­self vi­brate. In­stead of con­ven­tional speaker cones, Speakerless Au­dio uses the wind­screen pil­lar cov­ers, dash­board, roof and front seat backs to pro­duce richly de­tailed and to­tally im­mer­sive sound.

Friedrich says Speakerless Au­dio saves weight and space. Fewer ac­tu­a­tors are needed com­pared to con­ven­tional speak­ers, too. Cost re­duc­tions are also pos­si­ble.

And the tech­nol­ogy also prom­ises greater free­dom for car in­te­rior de­sign­ers, who would no longer have to make space for speak­ers in door trims and other places.


As Aus­tralia con­tin­ues to ig­nore elec­tric cars, Europe con­tin­ues to find ways to make them bet­ter. AllCharge makes it pos­si­ble to hook an elec­tric car up to any kind of charg­ing sta­tion; high-speed di­rect cur­rent, sin­gle or three-phase al­ter­nat­ing cur­rent. It’s de­signed to han­dle the most pow­er­ful recharge sta­tions un­der devel­op­ment, which will be ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing enough en­ergy to drive 150km in just five min­utes.

The bril­liance of AllCharge is that it de­liv­ers great recharg­ing flex­i­bil­ity for the elec­tric ve­hi­cle driver, with­out an on­board recharger. The recharger is a bot­tle­neck, putting a limit on the cur­rent the car can ac­cept.

Con­ti­nen­tal’s idea is to give dual pur­pose to com­po­nents al­ready in place in an elec­tric ve­hi­cle to han­dle re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing, par­tic­u­larly by boost­ing the per­for­mance of the in­verter and en­abling the ve­hi­cle to draw the max­i­mum charge a sta­tion can de­liver.

Mak­ing the on-board recharger re­dun­dant has the po­ten­tial to cut costs too.

Another bonus with AllCharge is that it’s re­versible. It’s no prob­lem at all to pro­vide an out­put plug to de­liver power at any coun­try’s stan­dard do­mes­tic AC volt­age and fre­quency, Con­ti­nen­tal’s en­gi­neers say.

We’re ex­cited: Con­ti­nen­tal makes parts of the cabin vi­brate in lieu of au­dio speak­ers; it’s also look­ing at su­per-quick charg­ing

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