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ZINNOV PODCAST   |   Business Resilience

The Future of Mobility w/ Continental Automotive’s Gilles Mabire and Latha Chembrakalam

Gilles Mabire & Latha Chembrakalam
Gilles Mabire CTO Continental
Latha Chembrakalam Vice President, Head of Technical Center - India Continental Automotive

In this episode of the Business Resilience Series, Pari Natarajan, CEO, Zinnov, talks to Gilles Mabire, Chief Technology Officer, and Latha Chembrakalam, Vice President and Head of India Technology Center at Continental who provide insights into how the automotive technology company is adapting to industry disruptions like electric vehicles, autonomous driving, and new mobility services.

Key themes they cover:

  1. Leveraging AI for product innovation and development processes
  2. Fostering a culture of innovation within their teams
  3. The integration of hardware and software for future mobility solutions
  4. Exciting technological advancements on the horizon at Continental, including software-defined vehicles, advanced radar systems, e-corner technology, and immersive display innovations.
  5. The barriers and progress toward achieving Level 4 autonomous driving capabilities as the leaders share their journey of running in Automotive tech center in today’s age.

Gilles reflects on the collaborative efforts between automakers and technology companies, sustainability initiatives, and the role companies play in enabling safe, convenient, and environmentally-friendly transportation.
This episode is a must-listen for anyone interested in the cutting-edge innovations driving the future of automotive technology and mobility.


Timestamps

00:00Intro
01:10How does Continental innovate to stay competitive?
03:21Current Innovations at Continental
06:06Incorporating AI in products and productivity
07:57Fostering a culture of innovation
11:09Attracting talent
13:21Adapting R&D strategy for hardware and software
15:58Are OEMs competitors?
18:29Barriers to achieving Level 4 ADAS capabilities
21:16Tech advancement you foresee in the future

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Pari: Welcome everyone to a brand new episode of Zinnov Podcast Business Resilience series. I’m your host for today, Pari Natarajan, CEO of Zinnov. Today, we are thrilled to be speaking with two trailblazing leaders shaping the future of Automotive technology, Gilles Mabire, the visionary Chief Technology Officer of Continental Automotive, and Latha Chembrakalam, the Vice President and Head of India Technology Center, driving Continental’s technological revolution.
Latha has been instrumental in driving product engineering and technology advancements at Continental Automotive’s India Technology Center. And Gilles Mabire, the Chief Technology Officer at Continental Automotive, leads strategic initiatives and transformational change. He oversees the company’s global Technology strategy, keeping Continental at the forefront of automotive innovation.
Welcome, Gilles and Latha. We are thrilled to have you here.

Latha: Thank you very much, Pari.

Gilles: Thank you, Pari. Happy to meet you.

Pari: Great. Let’s get started. Gilles, the Automotive industry has been undergrowing significant disruption of the rise of EV, autonomous driving and all of the new mobility services.
How is Continental adapting its business model and product portfolio to remain competitive in this changing landscape?

Gilles: We don’t see the industry transformation as a threat, but a huge opportunity. We anticipated and adapted to this new environment long ago. For Continental, it’s all about enabling safe, convenient, and connected mobility. Years, even decades ago, we started thinking about these new opportunities. Our approach is to work closely with customers from the early stages, helping them navigate this transformation – be it software-defined vehicles, new development methods for connected or autonomous cars, and so on.
We also realize our business models need to evolve because our job doesn’t end when the customer sells the first car. We need to support them throughout the vehicle’s lifecycle – bringing new features, software and middleware updates, patches, and continuously enhancing the in-car experience.
We constantly evaluate our product portfolio – are our existing offerings still relevant? Do we need to adapt our current products for the future? Or do we change how we develop them, stop certain products and focus on others? The real change is in how we approach the market and partner with customers, moving away from the traditional transactional model to offering different lifecycle solutions for hardware and software.

Pari: Gilles, you’ve been leader in this technology. What are some of the key innovations are emerging technology that Continental is focusing on, to shape the future of mobility?

Gilles: It’s not just about what we offer, but how we develop it. We emphasize virtualization, leveraging AI’s power, and simulations. Building system-level expertise is key to helping customers anticipate and master this transformation from the early stages.
Regarding our product portfolio, we have a wide range of offerings around software-defined vehicles. I can highlight our “function assets” – high-level features visible to end-users, like in-cabin sensing, autonomous parking, or essential body functions. We also provide on-demand operating systems and middleware – no future car can function without a robust automotive-grade base to plug and play capabilities.
Sometimes we supply the building blocks, other times comprehensive solution packages tailored for automotive use cases. Let me also mention our cutting-edge radar technology – we’ve launched a highly successful 6th generation radar with high accuracy across short and long ranges, cost-optimized, with our India team playing a vital global role.
Another innovation is our e-corner system integrating braking with an electric motor drive for advanced motion control. Our display technologies are also revolutionizing in-car experiences – like our award-winning BladeDisplay showcased at CES.
But we don’t just offer products; we deliver cross-domain functions that completely transform mobility experiences for users, such as our integrated in-cabin sensing and new access solutions.

Pari: Amazing. It looks like your range of innovation is across all of your different product lines. And some of the product lines have been around for the last 40-50 years, but it’s really interesting to see even things like braking systems, where you’re bringing in some cutting edge technology. Another interesting part you talked about  is using AI in how you build products itself. Maybe you can elaborate a bit in terms of how AI is playing a role in terms of type of product you innovate, how your innovation process is.

Gilles: To simplify, we adopt AI in our automotive space through two key pillars. The first is to enhance our products, especially autonomous mobility and driver assistance features, by leveraging AI capabilities like object recognition, synthetic data generation, and multi-level sensor fusion. This allows us to increase safety on the roads.
The second pillar focuses on using AI across our internal processes – areas the end-user won’t directly see but are crucial for mastering complexity. We infuse AI right from requirements management, breaking down and structuring requirements. AI also plays a role in coding by partnering on co-pilot solutions, as well as comprehensive validation of complex software branches quickly and accurately.
Integrating AI into our processes will make us stronger in the market – more cost-competitive and faster than the competition. These two pillars encapsulate how we are strategically adopting AI to drive product excellence and operational efficiency in the automotive space.

Pari: It’s fascinating to see how AI is used across how you build products as well as a feature in your products as well. Latha, coming to you as a Head of the Technical Center in India – how do you foster a culture of innovation and ensure that your global team stays ahead of curve in this rapidly evolving industry with the kind of innovation which Continental has been leading?

Latha: Continental has thrived for over 150 years because innovation is ingrained in our DNA. As a technology leader, constantly developing futuristic innovations is critical to staying ahead, especially amid disruptive trends like software-defined vehicles (SDVs) that are reshaping how we approach solutions, products, technologies, and business models with the customer at the center.
At our young and vibrant India Technical Center with an average age of 31, we channel that passion and creativity through structured methods to cultivate an innovation and entrepreneurial culture. Our “InCultivation” platform crowdsources innovative ideas across business units through contests, hackathons, and potential incubation opportunities.
We also established an IP department recently to accelerate this process and foster more agility. Additionally, our Innovation Center of Excellence supports and enables innovation efforts. Ultimately, fostering a creative culture requires leadership by example, encouraging diverse thinking, rewarding innovation, and promoting an open, cross-functional approach – because the new mobility era demands co-creation through collaboration.
And that’s what we try to do in the tech center in India.

Pari: So you have a very structured process to drive a culture of innovation in the company. Another question I have Latha for you is – if you look at a city like Bangalore, where you have a large tech center, talent has a lot of options, right?
They can work in retail, they work in automotive, they can work in financial services. Everybody’s looking for core software capability.

What are the key reasons why a high quality technical talent should join Continental compared to other options? Not just other automotive company, but they have options with other global companies in different verticals.

Latha: It’s an interesting question. The new generation is driven by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. At our India Tech Center, we differentiate ourselves by aligning with this mindset.
First, we offer a higher purpose – our “Vision Zero” of zero accidents, zero fatalities, and zero injuries. This resonates deeply with the younger workforce.
Second, we promote the core value of “freedom to act” – the ability to freely express thoughts and ideas, fostering innovation that this generation craves.
Third, we focus on enriching work content over just volume. We emphasize complete ownership of high-value projects and products, cultivating passion.
These three elements – overarching purpose, autonomy, and enriching work substance – are key differentiators attracting the best talent. Moreover, we firmly believe people are central to engineering excellence, offering holistic engagement through intellectual stimulation, emotional well-being initiatives, and work-life balance.
This comprehensive approach resonates with the aspirations of the new workforce, making a profound difference.

Pari: Great. And with the increasing focus of software and modern vehicles, how is continental automotive adopting its R&D strategy to integrate both hardware and software for future mobility solutions?

Latha: Software is undoubtedly the future lifeblood of the automotive industry. We’re talking about vehicle software exploding from 100 million to 300 million lines of code in just a few years. Cloud and service-oriented architectures are revolutionizing the space.
As we move towards highly autonomous and connected vehicles, technological complexity is multiplying. Software-defined vehicles (SDVs) are a key focus area for us. The goal is to develop a modular hardware and software platform that can deliver functionalities across domains like safety and entertainment, giving automakers the flexibility, modularity, and scalability they need for their vehicle architectures.
The crux is decoupling hardware from software to enable swift, continuous development and seamless implementation of new functions and over-the-air updates throughout the vehicle’s lifetime. We’re in an era of increasing a car’s value by consistently adding new features post-production – a stark contrast from the past when value only diminished after leaving the factory.
This involves a fundamental shift in vehicle architecture from distributed electronic controls to server-based systems. It’s not just a technological change, but a mindset evolution impacting development processes, tools, and business models.
Our Continental Edge Framework, developed in partnership with Amazon Web Services, is a new approach enabling efficient software development for service-oriented vehicle architectures. Combined with our high-performance computers and zone controllers, we’re well-positioned to tackle mobility’s complexities head-on.

Pari: Thanks, Latha. Gilles, it looks like a lot of software capability is being built within Continental. We also see the OEMs building their own software capability. Where do you see that kind of where you need to innovate and where does the OEM need to innovate on some of the software aspects?

Gilles: Let me address the perception that OEMs building their own software capabilities makes us competitors – that’s not the case at all. In fact, we’re happy they are taking control of their destiny by defining their software environments.
OEMs need to differentiate themselves more in today’s market and master the increasing technological complexity. This plays into our strengths as we collaborate closely with customers. There’s plenty of software we develop specifically for them that we don’t reuse across orders.
We want to help customers successfully manage the software tailored to their strategic needs. Our goal is enabling flexibility between hardware and software while providing value-added components they don’t need to redevelop themselves.
There are many software modules invisible to end-users, where integrating our existing building blocks into their environment is sufficient. We work with customers to identify the right balance – where they should focus their efforts versus areas where we can bring added value through our expertise.
Even automakers with in-house software capabilities partner with us to leverage our core competencies in developing automotive-grade software adhering to critical principles like complexity management, systems integration, and stringent safety standards. Unlike consumer electronics software, automotive software cannot compromise on functional safety.

Pari: Thank you. So it looks like there’s a very collaborative effort between the OEMs and Continental. Extending on the discussion on software, what are some of the technical barriers that companies face when it comes to adopting Level 4 ADAS capabilities.

Gilles: Basically I think one which is clear is around the business model. We need to come a solution that is affordable or at least where there is value for money for the end user end paying a premium price for a level four features.
The second one is to really define the use cases. Where does that make sense? To let the car operate and where do we see still limitations and where the human being needs to operate. And still, for me, a long way to go when it’s come to analyzing all the corner cases, validating autonomous mobility in all possible cases.
And being in India last time I talked to the team, if we succeed making level four up and running in India, it may be valid for all countries over the world.

Pari: So the level four innovation will come from the continental India technology center.

Gilles: Our India team is at the forefront of many ADAS and autonomous driving innovations at Continental. I’m extremely pleased with their motivated and dedicated efforts, especially in areas like autonomous parking.
On the technical front for achieving Level 4 autonomy, affordability is key. We need to establish redundancy to ensure the system operates reliably no matter what, with appropriate backup solutions if any sensor fails.
A prime example of our leadership is our partnership with the U.S. trucking company Aurora. We are pioneering the first full Level 4 autonomous truck for production in early 2028, initially for goods transportation on highways – an ideal use case for this technology.
We’re developing not just the sensors, but also the main ECU, backup ECU, and failover product to take over if the primary system encounters issues. It’s an exciting learning experience, showcasing how Continental isn’t simply discussing Level 4, but executing real-world projects to make it a reality.

Pari: Yeah, that’s exciting to see the level of innovation, which has happened in the just the last 10 years. And and also Continental was getting ready to launch the product in the U. S. market. All the best with the launch. For both of you, the, my final question, looking ahead. What exciting technology advancements do you foresee in the automotive industry, maybe in the next decade?
And how is Continental Automotive positioning itself to be in the forefront of these advancements?
Latha, do you want to start?

Latha: For Continental, developing solutions for safety, user joy and ease has always been and will remain our core focus – it’s what excites us daily. But the mobility space is also witnessing many exciting emerging technologies. Software-defined vehicles are truly game-changing, as we discussed. AI in all its forms – machine learning, deep learning, computer vision – is surging across the entire automotive value chain from production automation to user experience and autonomous driving. Though utilized extensively, AI’s full potential remains untapped.
Big data and analytics will see further advancements, with data becoming the new currency driving transformation. Complementing this data revolution will be blockchain for secure, reliable data sharing and connectivity networks. Existing technologies like AR/VR will continue improving.
Personally, I’m keen to see customized, high-performance yet energy-efficient semiconductor solutions emerge, harnessing innovations like quantum and neuromorphic computing to accelerate progress.
Being a major two-wheeler market, India holds immense opportunity to introduce affordable advanced rider assist systems with blind spot monitoring, collision warning, ACC, emergency braking – addressing the pressing safety challenge of reducing accidents, injuries and fatalities. It’s a purpose close to our hearts.
The possibilities are immense – from new business models around data-driven maintenance and insurance to the innovations still to come. We just need to move swiftly to realize this mobility future.

Pari: Gilles, how about you?

Gilles: As a tier one supplier, we have a societal responsibility beyond just operating in the mobility space. Firstly, by enabling physical connectivity and freedom of movement for people through our offerings.
However, we also bear the critical responsibility of developing sustainable solutions that don’t contradict environmental preservation. We proactively explore technologies not just for their value propositions, but also their potential to reduce our ecological footprint and drive long-term sustainability and carbon neutrality.
Just look at the mobile phone industry’s transformation and the immense computing power we now hold in our pockets. Achieving well-designed, sustainable future mobility is our overarching dream.
That’s why I always tell young engineers – there’s no better time than now to enter this field, as transformative technological opportunities are abundant like never before. When I was starting out, AI was just theoretical without the data and processing capabilities we have today. But now, even reasonably modest computing resources allow everyone to leverage and benefit from artificial intelligence.
The world of opportunities is limitless – it’s up to us to seize them and create the best possible solutions.

Pari: Thanks Gilles. The one thing I liked about this conversation is how optimistic both of you are on what the possibilities of technology are, especially in a complex industry like Automotive. Thanks a lot for giving us a view on the key trends, the technology innovations, the innovation process, which is used in Continental, specifically the culture of innovation you’re building, with a 31-year-old average talent age in the India center; and the exciting possibilities of what technology could do in the automotive industry in the next few years. Thanks a lot. I really enjoyed the conversation.

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