Detroit Diesel began in 1939 during the great depression. General Motors created the GM Diesel Division, the origin of today’s Detroit Diesel Corporation. They have been a successful company through the years, and continue to expand and produce reliable, heavy-duty trucks still today.
The Great Depression was rough on everyone. It was difficult to support your family, Hitler was invading Poland (September 1939), and Great Britain and France declared war on Germany (because of Hitler). However, through all of that, the GM Diesel Division introduced their first ever series of engines, the Series 71. These engines were built because tanks, landing craft, road building equipment, and stand by generators needed compact, lightweight, two cycle engines. These engines sold very well, so well that by 1943, GM Diesel employed 4,300 people (more than 1,400 of them women). All of their employees together produced 57,892 engines in 1943 alone!
It was six years later and the war had finally ended. GM knew that they needed to look at expanding if they had plans on making their company grow, this lead them to the on-highway truck market. In order to make it though, they had to come up with a heavy–duty engine that would meet the commercial needs of the business. So, that’s what they did, and by 1955 they were selling those engines to clients other than GM as well! Having so many customers, new and old, meant that they needed more room to grow. They needed to come up with a way to help their customers in case of a problem while on the highway. So, GM Diesel began to focus on developing world wide distribution with authorized distributors and dealers to provide those types of services.
They were doing well, and things only got better with the introduction of their Series 53 engines in 1957. The Series 53 engines are a 2, 3, and 4-cylinder inline group of engines used for ground support equipment, and vehicles at airports around the country to haul baggage and tow airplanes when needed. The 4-Cylinder Series 53N engine drives logging skidders (logging skidder drag fallen trees where they need to go), and powers backhoes at construction sites. The 6V53T engine is found in armored personnel carriers for the Military. This series of engines was a very powerful and important piece of equipment, so what were they to do with the old 71 series? GM thought that it would be a good idea to put the series 71 engine group into use for both on-highway and off road use. Their goal was to keep all of the parts interchangeable so that when they made new models later on, ones with more horsepower, they could just add more cylinders.
When GM Diesel became Detroit Engine Division in 1965, they consolidated their business to form the Detroit Allison Division. This did huge things for them, and they were able to triple their sales margins in that decade alone! However, that was nothing compared to what was coming when they introduced the Series 60 Engines. The series 60 engines were four-cycle heavy-duty engines that would later become the image of the company. It was the first ever engine to have electronic controls as a standard feature. Their goal with this engine was to meet the demand for cleaner and more fuel efficient heavy-duty engines. It didn’t take long for this engine to become the most popular heavy-duty diesel engine in the North American Class 8 truck market!
Eventually, General Motors teamed up with Penske Corporation and created Detroit Diesel Corporation, the successor to the heavy duty diesel engine business of the Detroit Allison Division. The deal gave Penske a 60% majority ownership, which brought new leaders to the company. Everything was working; they were growing their highway heavy-duty market share, and completing a successful initial public offering of common stock. It wasn’t long before they were listed on the New York stock exchange under the stock symbol “DDC”.
Detroit Diesel Corporation knew though that in order to continue to expand and grow, they needed to invest a little time and money into what they already had. So, in 2005 Detroit Diesel Corporation invested $350 million to refurbish and retool its plant. With all of the new that they were making happen though, it seemed only right to introduce another engine. They then came out with the DD engine platform with the DD15 engine. With this new engine, their name was really getting out there. Over the next several years Detroit Diesel Corporation was recognized for its Brownfield Redevelopment efforts, won the National EPA Phoenix Award for its plant, they hit their 1 million mark with the 60 Series Engines, they were able to launch Blue Tec Emissions Technology, and introduce the final engine of its DD Series engine family. They now had the DD13, DD15, DD15TC, and DD16.
Detroit Diesel Corporation has definitely come a long way. They are an affiliate of Daimler Trucks North America LLC (known simply as Detroit to help identify all engines and future products), they have become a global leader in the diesel engine industry, and now have over 800 authorized service outlets in North America. To this day, Detroit Diesel is a trusted engine supplier to all heavy-duty trucking companies, and continues to lead the pack.