DETROIT - A key drivetrain supplier to General Motors is continuing its push into electronics with a new stabilizer bar.
American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. will supply 100,000 electronically actuated stabilizer bars, called the SmartBar, for 50,000 sport-utilities, believed to be the Hummer H2.
The addition of electronics into more of American Axle's driveline products is part of a growth plan, said Ronald Schoenbach, director of the company's chassis engineering. He made his comments on Tuesday, March 6, at the SAE World Congress.
The electronics push comes as American Axle winds down its $1.5 billion investment in plant and equipment since it was created by the 1993 spinoff of former GM gear and axle plants.
The company, GM's primary source of axles and other underbody components, is bringing to market a series of electronically controlled devices.
Electronics can differentiate otherwise 'dumb' suspension and driveline systems. More important, it can increase profit margins on otherwise commodity parts. The company has offered an electronic disconnect for the front axles for GM's sport-utilities since 1997. The device enhances fuel economy by returning the vehicle to two-wheel drive.
Turn it on, off
The SmartBar is a two-piece rear stabilizer bar. Its chief advantage is that it can be switched off for off-road conditions to maximize wheel travel and provide more stability. In its on mode, typically used during on-road travel, a metal collar joins the two pieces so the bar acts as a single unit, providing a more stable feel when the vehicle is turning.
When the unit is switched off, either by the driver or a signal from the body electronics controller, the collar slides to uncover the break in the bar, allowing each rear wheel to move more independently of each other with great wheel travel.
American Axle spokeswoman Karen Manardo declined to identify which vehicle it will be introduced on in 2002. But sources say it will be on the 2003 Hummer H2, which will ride on GM's full-sized truck platform.
'Hanging a wire' from underbody components 'can improve your profit margins,' Schoenbach said. That's good news for investors.
Wall Street is happy with American Axle's rapid growth to $3 billion in sales and its expansion into Europe, Mexico, South America and Asia. Analysts, too, are watching with interest the company's shift from 99.5 percent dependence on GM just seven years ago to an estimated 72 percent in 2002.
Higher profits expected
Blackstone Group, a New York investment group, recapitalized the company in 1997. Part of the company was sold in January 1999 to the public via an initial public offering.
But analysts are looking for higher profit margins to accompany that growth.
Company officials hope to deliver more with an electronically controlled torque-biasing differential. The device transfers torque to the wheels that grip. This is an electronic version of the mechanical limited-slip differential.