Future mobility sounds to me like a symphony

Continental Magazine met with Dr. Dirk Abendroth, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Continental Automotive, at the IAA in Frankfurt/Main (Germany).

On the Continental booth we talked about the latest developments for the future of mobility, climate protection and why automotive, consumer electronics and software industry are partly merging.

Interview with Dr. Dirk Abendroth, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Continental Automotive

Dirk, climate protection is the main topic of IAA on and off the fairground. How big is the impact of this discussion on the mobility in the future?

Climate protection is a very important change parameter and will have a significant impact on our innovations, solutions and product portfolio. The mobility ecosystem we address is resource-efficient, climate-friendly and environmentally friendly, safe and seamless. We promote sustainable mobility and deliver important technological contributions to this end.

Are individual countries, regions or cities able to move the needle, or does it take more than that to be greener?

There is no “one size fits all.” Regions have individual needs, and ultimately the end customer decides. But we understand that some key markets (e.g. China) might take a lead in showcasing future mobility for certain settings. Continental is one of the top suppliers with considerable expertise and a good global footprint, and it will provide customized solutions worldwide.

Not only has there been a powertrain shift, but the automobile has also become part of the Internet. This means that software is an important, if not the most important, success factor. How do you see this development?

Software will be one of our dominant strategic dimensions and a key success factor. This is having a positive impact in many ways and will even grow. Software impacts the way products are invented, developed, distributed and commercialized. Moreover, it plays a significant role in the automation of manufacturing. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a powerful enabler for software: it will take over repetitive work and allow us humans to spend more time on creative tasks and social interaction.

In the race between the automotive industry and software companies, which have been pushing into the automotive sector for some time, who will win and why?

We are in a period of transition in the automotive industry and face new competitors. That is due to the fact that the automotive, consumer electronics, IT and software industries are partly merging. We experience this trend for example in consumer electronics in the car interior, in the significant amount of software in the car, in common interfaces and partners in edge and cloud computing, in similar development approaches, like agile development and scrum, in artificial intelligence and in merging business models.

Future mobility solutions will be complex: they will need partners and a broad variety of skills. Continental is a leading technology company that brings lots of experience in the automotive industry, but it needs to grow in software and system engineering and in services. Some strong players in the consumer electronics industry perfectly understand software and service and even run frequent over-the-air (OTA) updates. Nevertheless, these players face the same automotive and mobility regulations and struggle to meet these requirements. Ultimately, the new market offers chances and challenges to all players.

Continental has proven able to transform itself successfully for nearly 150 years now, and I believe we will be one of the winners in the transformation process.

You have worked for some time in Silicon Valley. What is so special and worth imitating?

Silicon Valley is a very special place – a place with an extraordinarily high density of excellent engineers and business talents, driven by a can-do attitude and entrepreneurship. It is easy to connect and keep in touch with everyone, even with the major players. Industry in Silicon Valley is opportunity-driven and understands failures to be an important part of learning. And, of course, everybody in Silicon Valley tries to make this world a little better … or at least purports to be doing so! [laughs] Nevertheless, running a startup in 99 out of 100 cases means a daily fight for survival. 

Worth imitating? Yes and no. Continental and the entire industry are in a phase of transformation, and we need to consolidate and enhance our product portfolio and find new products and partners. That obviously needs innovation and speed, and the above factors facilitate quick innovations and necessary investments. In addition, we still need to manage mass production without compromising our excellent quality, safety standards and project execution. Silicon Valley, as a placeholder for start-up hot spots around the world, offers attractive ideas for innovations, and Continental needs balance, which employees and managers need to establish together. “Agile” will answer some challenges, but existing Continental expertise might be the better answer to other challenges.

Are there comparable regions that may already be on the way to becoming the next technology hotspot?

China is one of these examples. Chinese customers embrace new technologies and adapt quickly. The local industry has strong players, and the government is pushing for innovation and change.

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Age: 44

Born, home and favored harbor: Hamburg

Education: Degree in Electrical Engineering, Telecommunication Engineering

Professional Background: BMW, bpce, Byton

Sporting Ambitions: 14 years of playing soccer, 30 years on the squash court

Musical interests: Trumpet, Symphonic Music, Soundtracks (Jurassic Park or ET), Chamber Music, Salsa and Merengue

Role Model: Charlie Chaplin (astute mind in all areas of life, wonderful sense of humor and gratefulness in old age)

First Car: BMW 3 Series

Most important App: Messenger apps to communicate with my wife and friends around the world

Favorite Song: Mahler 5. Symphonie

Book last read: Novel of Tom Sharpe

An unfulfilled life dream: See the Earth from space with your own eye

Since the beginning of 2019, you have been CTO at Continental. What has surprised you most during that time?

I used to be in touch with Continental as a customer– so there are no big surprises. But I am impressed by the diversity of sub-cultures and attitudes, which are still connected through strong Continental values. Diversity is an asset, but it takes hard work and good collaboration to make it a competitive advantage.

And what has impressed you most?

Well, Continental is a very strong technology player with lots of highly educated and experienced experts and is truly international with respect to its global R&D footprint.

The Future Perspective: Continental showcases key elements of the mobility ecosystem of the future at the IAA 2019.

How do you think individual mobility will develop over the next five to ten years?

We recognize numerous trends, e.g. connected, autonomous, shared and electrified mobility, which will diversify individual mobility. The true revolution is about combining these trends into a comprehensive, seamless multi-modal mobility service. One of the game changers might be autonomous driving. The mobility of the future will be more diverse, and Continental will play a key role in this.

What are your assumptions based on, and how are you further developing these views?

Our assumptions are based on extensive research, inside-out reflections and outside-in consulting. Our Continental Future Perspective identifies 220 future trends that will influence our lives by 2030. This is our “roadmap at a glance.”

What does individual mobility mean to you – today and in the future?

To me, individual mobility is multi-modal already: I swap between different mobility options several times per day… but I am looking forward to getting this as a seamless service in a single app.

One last question: you are a musician, too, and passionate about music. So what style of music do you think of when you look at the challenges of the future?

Future mobility sounds to me like a “symphony,” which simply means “consonance or inter-play of sounds” – a perfect analogy to the diverse, connected mobility of the future. Does this sound classical? No, symphony can be anything, and modern orchestras even use drum-sets, e-guitars and DJs – sometimes even distributed across different countries at the same time… simply seamless.

The interview was conducted by Marcus Lieberum, Brand Communications Continental AG, during the IAA 2019 press days in Frankfurt/Main, Germany.