An Interview with Catarina I. Matos Silva, Head of Product Management, Continental

  • Silva discusses the CrossContact Extreme E tire used in the Extreme E racing series
  • Continental team accompanies every race around the globe

Continental is a founding partner and premium sponsor of the Extreme E series. The Hanover-based technology company equips all vehicles in the series with tires for the different and very challenging action.

Catarina I. Matos Silva discusses the special challenges that the tires are exposed to in this off-road racing series, her work in product management and the Portuguese passion that has helped her get ahead within the company.

Catarina, what’s your job at Continental Tire?
I head up the Product Management team responsible for our summer, off-road or 4x4 and van products for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. We are in close contact with the production units and the development department on the one hand, and with the marketing and sales organizations of the European markets on the other. We receive the feedback regarding our products from all relevant sides and therefore serve as an important hub in internal communications. There’s never a dull moment and you never know what’s in store for you the following week.

And how, in this function, did you become involved in Continental’s Extreme E project?
Actually, Extreme E came to me. Last year, I was additionally assigned the technical support team for the Off-road Tires group. This involves the coordination of various projects, including the tire development, service and various integrated technologies. Continental Tire’s sustainability activities also formed part of this, including our commitment to the Extreme E racing series, which was already at an advanced stage at the time.

So you also attend the racing weekends personally?
Yes! It’s really amazing, isn’t it? But also necessary. After all, we’re the tire specialists. With the CrossContact Extreme E, we’ve developed a tire that is used by all the teams on the track. We also know what counts better than anybody. For sustainability reasons, we attend with a very small service team and contact persons for all the new teams with regard to all questions relating to the tires. We also receive the immediate feedback from the drivers right after the race. That’s hugely important for us in order to correctly evaluate the quality of our development as well as identifying new potential for improvements and enhancements where necessary. The events take place mostly in regions where motorsport races have never been held before. Accordingly, no tire tests were conducted there during the development stage. Every one of the five races is therefore really exciting for us – quite regardless of the actual racing action and the outcome.

What makes tire development so important for this competition?
The ODYSSEY 21, with which all the teams line up on the grid, is truly an “electric monster” – developed for extreme accelerations and extreme speeds in extreme environments. The electric drive delivers the full output of around 550 hp almost without delay. And as if that wasn’t enough, there are racing situations in which the drivers can activate an additional speed boost, the so-called “HyperDrive.” Absolutely nothing compares with it. And this incredible power has to be transferred to the track one-to-one – during acceleration, overtaking, when cornering and, not least, during braking. These aren’t high-speed oval tracks or courses on standard asphalt. This is “off the road” with all the associated difficulties and pitfalls. At the start of the season in Saudi Arabia, we saw some spectacular jumps over many meters. And also, unfortunately, some equally spectacular crashes where, thanks goodness, no one was seriously injured. Anyone watching close up knows that the drivers really do everything to take the vehicle and tires to their absolute limit from the first second. The forces acting on the tires during the individual phases of the race are truly incredible.

Plus, the Continental CrossContact Extreme E has to work in five different regions of the Earth. These are five completely different climate zones with routes and surfaces that couldn’t be more different. My colleague Anuj Jain, who so successfully managed the development of the tire, said in an interview that the Extreme E is by far the greatest challenge that tires have ever faced in motorsport. And I’m one-hundred percent confident that he’s right. I was there, live. I saw it and I’m already looking forward to the forthcoming races when the series continues in Greenland.

Could you please tell us a little more about your contact points with the sustainability activities in Continental?
Because my team and I are responsible for product development – for both the product roadmap and the portfolio planning – and the company has very clear and ambitious goals with regard to sustainability, we provide the relevant roadmap to achieve it.

Sustainability is not just an empty word, it’s extremely important for the entire organization and for our own wellbeing. For example, we work with Research & Development and Material Development on an ongoing basis, defining new approaches and possibilities, while also constantly working on improving our recycling solutions. We have exciting years ahead of us just around sustainability!

What motivated you to specifically seek out professional challenges in the tire business?
In my early days, I would probably have said it was simply a coincidence. Today, I say it was pure luck. I studied mining and environmental engineering in Portugal. Some 15 years ago, I heard of a “Research and Development Trainee Pool” at Continental in Hanover and decided to apply without really being sure what I was actually getting into. In Hanover, I met international teams with developers and engineers, who are excited about their work and the product. They were all immediately ready to share the projects they’re working on and their findings. And they were seriously interested in my opinion. Even then, they were living out that special corporate culture based on exchange and communication where everyone was important. I knew immediately that I wanted to work in those teams.

Did the fact that the industry was dominated by men at the time not hold you back?
Not for a second. I think I’m really privileged in this company because we’ve made great efforts to create incentives and show ambitious female talents that they can make a career at Continental if they so choose. Of course, nothing’s automatic. But I’ve always felt treated equally and I always had the same opportunities as my male colleagues. I’m female, Portuguese, very passionate and I don’t hesitate to say what I think.

What can be done to encourage more women to enter into the tire business?
Continental is very committed to this aim because we believe that diversity will always help us move forward. The spectrum of customers has diversified, long gone are the days when only 50-year-old men, i.e. family fathers, bought the tires for the family car.

We also have many activities, campaigns and promotional programs that enable women to progress further or to remain in their job, particularly if they have families. It’s also our responsibility to reach young women who, like myself 15 years ago, are still unaware of how much fun it can be to work here. We organize proactive initiatives at universities for this purpose. If a woman is inquisitive and enjoys challenges, this is a fantastic industry.