The History of Detroit Diesel Corporation

Detroit Diesel Corporation is a subsidiary of Daimler Trucks North America LLC with its headquarters in Michigan. It is a leading manufacturer of diesel and alternative-fuel engines for commercial hauling purposes in trucks, coaches, buses, and commercial marine craft. Detroit diesel engines are distributed in more than 130 authorized dealers across 88 countries.

Early beginnings

The history of Detroit Diesel Corporation—which was re-branded as simply “Detroit” in 2012—can be traced to 1938, when General Motors (GM) established GM Diesel, the foundation of Detroit as it exists today. GM first experimented with the diesel engine in one of its assembly line reconstructions for the 1933 Chicago’s World Fair. When demonstration runs suggested the potential of diesel-powered locomotives in cutting down running times, GM set up a dedicated diesel engine division to research and develop diesel engines for industrial and marine use. Its first model—the lightweight, two-cycle Series 71—was used in landing craft, tanks, and road construction equipment for World War II.

The 50s and 60s

Despite the railroad’s dwindling importance after the war, GM Diesel picked up more momentum and explored opportunities in the highway truck market. The division developed heavy-duty engines, expanded its client base, and set up a worldwide distribution of authorized dealers and distributors. In 1957, the Series 53 was added to the product range. GM Diesel was renamed as the Detroit Engine Division in 1965. In 1970, GM consolidated its Detroit diesel engine and Allison transmission and gas turbine divisions to form the Detroit Allison Division.

70s – 90s

Detroit Allison continued to enjoy robust sales even through the auto industry recession in the 70s. By the time the 80s hit, it had commanded 30 per cent of the diesel engine market despite facing stiff competition from market leader Cummins. In 1987, the company introduced the four-cycle, heavy-duty Series 60 engine with integrated electronics as a standard feature. Its clean and fuel-efficient design quickly made it the best-selling diesel engine in the domestic Class 8 truck market.

In 1988, GM entered into a joint venture with Penske Corporation, owned by famous auto racer and business magnate Roger Penske to create the Detroit Diesel Corporation. Under Penske, who retained 80 per cent ownership in the venture, the company’s revenue and market share soared. However, heavy R&D investments combined with a depressed economy lowered profit margins significantly in 1990 and 1991. The company bounced back in 1993 with a net income of more than $20 million. In the same year, Detroit Diesel Corporation became a publicly traded company on NYSE under the ticker symbol “DDC.”

Achievements in the millennium

In 2000, Detroit Diesel Corporation was acquired by DaimlerChrysler and incorporated under a new business division known as DaimlerChrysler Powersystems with an employee count of over 34,000 and almost $7 billion in revenue. Five years later, Detroit Diesel Corporation invested $350 million to revamp its plant and in 2007, the company launched its DD engine platform, with the DD15 engine winning the Truck Writers of North America Technical Achievement Award.

The  year 2009 marked one million sales of the Series 60 engine, which is recognized the world over for its excellent performance and fuel efficiency advantages. The following year, Detroit Diesel Corporation launched its BlueTec® emissions technology with advanced NOx-reducing capabilities, as well as the DD13, DD15, and DD16 engine line-up. The company was named one of the two 2011 Michigan Green Leaders by the Detroit Free Press in recognition of its sustainable development, innovation, and conservation initiatives.

Detroit diesel engines continue serving long-haul, off-road, and general transportation needs impeccably through their technology-forward thinking. The company developed the first-of-its-kind Remote Diagnostic System—the Virtual Technician—offering real-time vehicle system analysis via remote telemetric vehicle tracking systems. Its more recent launch of Detroit™ genuine parts has also helped customers retain value over the life of their vehicles.

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