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January 16, 2012

Detroit Axles Debut

The first product announcement since the launch of the remade Detroit brand is a comprehensive line of medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicle axles. David Hames, general manager, marketing and strategy for Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) says the new Detroit branded axle made Detroit a third supplier to competitors Dana and Meritor. However, unlike those Tier One suppliers, the Detroit axles will only be available in Freightliner and Western Star, Thomas Built buses and products from the Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. (step vans and motor home chassis and other specialized products)

The axles are manufactured in the United Sates, co-located with the production of the DD13, DD15 and DD16 engines in the Detroit Diesel facility in Redford, MI.

In fact, axles have been manufactured there for five years and sold as Axle Alliance Co. products. As such, they have been available in DTNA trucks and buses but little effort was made to actively market them. Their inclusion in the new Detroit portfolio will see that change significantly, with collateral materials in the dealerships and the Detroit axles enjoying the standard position in the data book for DTNA products.

The broadening of the product offering was the reason behind the corporate name change from Detroit Diesel to Detroit late last year. And next spring, at the Mid-America Trucking Show, Detroit will release information about the inclusion of transmissions so customers will be able to spec an all-Daimler powertrain. Another reason for the name change is that Detroit is committed to other fuels, so avoiding the otherwise contradictory "Detroit Diesel Natural Gas" engines of the future."

The axles, like the engines, are global products. The DD13, DD15 and DD16 are all members of the Heavy Duty Engine Platform that has seen introductions last year in both Mercedes-Benz products in Europe and Fuso trucks in Japan. The axles are likewise used by the same nameplates in other markets and are based on Mercedes-Benz designs. However, for the North American market, they are manufactured to accommodate the braking and suspension systems offered here.

Steer and Drive Axles
Included are both steer axles and single and tandem drive axles. Steer axles go from 6,000 to 20,000 pounds and match or exceed the specs and performance of competitive offerings, including 55-degree wheel cut. In reality, the lineup is broader, says Brad Williamson, manager, engine and component marketing. For example, Meritor has seven different steer axles, while Detroit has 12. So the new axles more precisely meet  application requirement. One, in particular, may prove very popular: a 12,500-pound rating, which makes a tractor more versatile when it comes to scaling a load.

A differentiator, though, is the steering knuckles, which have needle roller bearings rather than plain bushings. This guarantees maximum service life and the lower friction and needle-roller thrust bearing gives the driver more road feel.
Single drive axles have any and all braking options, according to Williamson. Capacities range from 13,000 pounds to 23,000. Gears are precision cut using a unique dry-power process that needs no lubricant/coolant and the accuracy of the machining means a quiet and reliable product. The design allows for a larger differential within the housing for a more robust differential and ring-gear assembly.

Tandem rears are available in ratings between 34,000 and 46,000 pounds and, with synthetic lube, are covered by a five-year/750,000-mile warranty. There's broad ratio coverage for all applications and customer needs. The tandem axles have no pinion head bearing, allowing for a larger, more robust differential. Also featured are needle roller bearings, offering lower heat and no risk of spinout damage, and a splash deflector to ensure full-time lubrication of the power divider, dispensing with a pump and giving a small fuel economy gain.

Topoid offset gearing similar to Meritor’s Amboid design, creates much improved driveline angles for the inter-axle shaft. And like the Meritor 14X, there is an axle option that allows use of ultra-low-profile singles or reverting to duals with an intermediate axle length.

Options include a driver-controlled interaxle diff lock.

The axles are supported by a sales calculator to help customers spec the right ratio for the application. However, up to two ratio changes are accommodated to ensure the axles and the vehicles as a whole perform to the highest customer expectations.

Hames says this is not an example of the vertical integration that has truck specifiers so concerned. Rather, it is vehicle integration, which optimizes the entire system for the customer to provide optimal performance and fuel economy. When the transmissions come into the Detroit lineup in the spring, the ability to integrate the entire drivetrain should be a major differentiator for DTNA nameplates and a major benefit for the customer.

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