Auto parts supplier Continental started out 145 years ago in Germany, making rubber.
On Wednesday, the company opened a lab in San Jose to develop cars that can communicate with stoplights and drive themselves.
Continental’s 65,000-square-foot research center on North First Street will eventually employ more than 300 people, who will develop the company’s own advanced gear and seek partnerships with local technology companies.
“We’ve been on many business trips coming here to San Jose and Silicon Valley for many years, actually decades,” said Samir Salman, CEO of Continental North America. “We finally came to the conclusion this is the right place to be in, to create innovation.”
Many of Continental’s competitors and customers have already reached the same conclusion.
Continental, which has 220,000 employees in 56 countries, brings a slightly different focus to its Silicon Valley Research and Development Center.
Its engineers will work on self-driving technology and systems that let cars communicate with each other, as well as with roadway infrastructure. They will also focus on electric-car drivetrains, another Bay Area specialty.
But in addition, the center will include people who develop better tires and cooling systems. All of Continental’s business divisions — including some that seem far more Michigan than Silicon Valley — will have representatives here.
Much of the research will concentrate on making cars safer and eliminating accidents. Like many of the automakers that the company counts as its customers, Continental sees autonomous vehicles as a way to save many if not most of the 1.3 million people worldwide who die in traffic accidents each year.
“Our vision is no more accidents in the future,” said Dirk Remde, the center’s executive director. “We have a very long way to go, but we have the means to do that.”
Continental opened a smaller, 40-person office in Santa Clara in 2014. The new center, which replaces that office, represents a hybrid of automotive and tech architecture. Garages are paired with open-floor work spaces, comfortable chairs and a Foosball-equipped workout room.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who attended the facility’s opening ceremony Wednesday, told Continental executives to consider the city an open-air laboratory for their technologies.
“We invite you to use our streets, buildings, our streetlights, our infrastructure in any way that allows you to better innovate in ways that make mobility cleaner, greener, safer,” Liccardo said. “We know great things will happen.”
Source: SF Gate