Ewan has been editor of Retreading Business since 2006 and of Tyre & Rubber Recycling since the magazine was founded. During this period he has become an expert on the global tyre recycling sector. He has many years' experience as an automotive journalist including a period at Tyres & Accessories.
Agricultural Tyres: Continental Offers Real Expertise
An Interview with Continental’s Benjamin Hübner, Product Line Manager at Continental Specialty Tires discussing the company’s approach to the agricultural sector.
Continental has the Solutions for the Agricultural Sector
Commercial Tyre Business: How did Continental perform in 2022 in the agricultural sector? Additionally, ETRMA reported replacement tyre sales for the Agri sector were down by 28% in Q3, what are you forecasting performance-wise in 2023?
Benjamin Hübner: “Events such as the pandemic, a strained commodity market, and volatile supply chains have presented the industry with new challenges over the past three years. Since the outbreak of the war against Ukraine, market sentiment in the agricultural sector has also deteriorated but is now stabilising at a moderately positive level.
“As a premium manufacturer of agricultural tyres, we are noticing that demand for agricultural machinery remains high, although it is no longer at the record level seen in recent months. This development is also being seen in the agricultural tyre business, particularly in the EMEA region. In addition to the initial delivery business, we also supply the aftermarket with our tyres. Demand for agricultural tyres in the retail sector was down slightly last year when compared with the previous year.
“For the fiscal 2023, we expect demand to be moderately positive. We are well prepared for business in spring. Experience has taught us that a large amount of the business for each year happens primarily in the first half of the year.”
CTB: The summer of 2022 saw sweltering conditions across Europe. How did this impact farmers in terms of their tyre policy? What trends did you see? How did you support your customers during this period?
BH: “We supply our customers worldwide. This means that farmers benefit from our broad portfolio, which is suitable for a variety of conditions. Generally, soil protection, fuel savings and durability play a central role for all our tyres. We are in continuous dialogue with our customers and meet the requirements they place on us.
“We recommend to our customers that they base their tyre selection on the relevant parameters such as operational conditions and agricultural application.
“Our customer service is also on hand to advise on the right choice of tyres. Our dealers are also trained in providing product training.
“Overall, the trend in the agricultural sector towards large and powerful agricultural machinery and the pressure to improve efficiency has led to an increase in demand for technologically advanced and larger tyres.”
According to Benjamin Hübner, Product Line Manager at Continental Specialty Tires: “We recommend selecting tyres based on agricultural tasks.”
CTB: What are your plans for the agri sector in 2023? Are you making any investments in facilities, production, services, staffing etc? Any strategic change in approach?
BH: “We have recently reorganised our Agricultural Tires business area. Ivonne Bierwirth is now at the helm as head of the business field. By reorganising our business fields, Continental Specialty Tires aims to respond more effectively individual customer needs and be able to better serve global trends such as digitalisation and sustainability.
“To achieve this, we rely in the Agricultural Tires business field on an international team from various specialist fields – such as research and development, production, technical customer service, logistics, and marketing and sales – that deals exclusively with agricultural tyres. Continental is thus underlining its ambitions of growth as part of its “Vision 2030” strategy.
“From a strategy perspective, the Agricultural Tires business field is looking to business in the EMEA region.
“Our state-of-the-art production facility in Lousado, Portugal, where all our agricultural tyres are manufactured, is an important part of our strategy. With the plant in Lousado, we made a conscious decision in 2017 to opt for local production and shorter transport routes within Europe.”
Ivonne Bierwirth, Head of Agricultural Tires added; “With our realignment and expertise in the agricultural business, we want to continue contributing to efficient and sustainable agriculture in the future.”
CTB: Are there any new product launches planned for the agricultural industry this year?
BH: “In 2023, we will gear our agricultural tyre business towards technologically advanced product developments as well as our digital solutions. We are looking at products that address current trends and challenges within the industry. The focus is, therefore on new tyre sizes for tractors in the higher horsepower range. We already launched five new VF TractorMaster tyre sizes in 2022 (650/60 R 34; 650/65 R 42; 710/75 R 42; 650/65 R 34; 710/60 R 34), and there are more in the pipeline.
“A highlight we’re looking forward to this year is Agritechnica, which will be held from November 12 to 18, 2023, in Hanover, Germany.”
CTB: Energy prices are impacting companies everywhere. Farmers are particularly impacted on the frontline by having to deal with these price pressures and being pushed by supermarkets and wholesalers to sell at the lowest price. What are you doing as a tyre manufacturer to support farmers whilst also not being immune to these pressures?
BH: “Agricultural tyres make a crucial difference when it comes to productivity and soil protection. With our tyres, we are making our contribution to help ensure that our customers are able to both survive and thrive in such a challenging market environment.
“This is the reason why we develop our tyres in close cooperation with our customers. We provide retailers and customers with in-depth advice on how to choose the right tyres. With digital solutions such as the ContiPressureCheck tyre monitoring system and the TireTechApp, we also help our customers keep an eye on the condition of their tyres.”
Hübner: “Agricultural tyres make a crucial difference when it comes to productivity and soil protection. This is the reason why we develop our tyres in close cooperation with our customers.”
CTB: Continental has only relatively recently returned to the agricultural tyre market. Has the company managed to make inroads into the market since it took back production from Mitas?
BH: “Since our return to the agricultural tyre business, we have established ourselves on the market: besides supplying the aftermarket with tyres, we now also supply several large, well-known agricultural machinery manufacturers such as Fendt, Valtra, CNHi and John Deere.
“Since 2017, we have launched nine product lines with over 100 articles and offer a wide selection for agricultural machinery. The German Agricultural Society (DLG) has awarded DLG approval to two product lines (VF TractorMaster Hybrid + VF TractorMaster). This recognition underscores the performance of Continental’s new generation of agricultural tyres.”