Auxiliary Axles Still a Buoyant Business for Distributors

At a time when body distributors and chassis upfitters are getting hit from every direction by truck chassis manufacturers' efforts to bundle products together for the convenience of the end user, some good news may have appeared on the horizon — compliments of Rick Rickman, director of sales for Watson & Chalin Manufacturing.

Rickman spoke to a full audience during a seminar outlining auxiliary (lift) axle trends at the 37th annual NTEA convention and T-3 exhibition. Rickman's audience asked questions about the chassis manufacturers' efforts to break the traditional method of aftermarket auxiliary axle installation in favor of an OEM factory installation.

“The aftermarket installation of auxiliary axles isn't going to be taken away from body distributors and chassis upfitters,” said Rickman. “There will be a market for the aftermarket installation of these products. Nevertheless, there will be some erosion of the standard installations on new truck chassis. But anything that's a retrofit or that requires specialty work, that work will be available.”

Rickman also sees indications of market growth in steerable auxiliary axles. “In the current market, steerable axles have been used almost exclusively in the western states,” Rickman said. “We are now seeing more and more of them in the northeastern markets. We think it's because of the advantages that steerables offer to the user.”

The advantages, and the reason for the new trend in the marketplace, are derived from the latest technologies that have been incorporated into the steerable axles, according to Rickman. “Tire lives on steerables have shown to be three or possibly four times longer than non-steerable rigid lift axles. Steering geometry has added to that increase in tire life, as well as the overall greater acceptance of the steerable axle.

“Non-steerable auxiliary axles will always have a market,” said Rickman. “But as steerable axles gain in weight-carrying capabilities, they will cut into that market.” Rickman noted that the current trend was leading towards stricter enforcement of existing weight laws. He feels this trend will help the steerable products more than the non-steerable.

Part of the gain in carrying capacity is derived from the use of manufactured axles. “When the industry first started out, many manufacturers used an I-beam axle as the base for manufacturing their lift axles,” Rickman said. “With the industry trend moving towards the use of a manufactured axle, the capacities will probably increase, as well as affording some different designs and configurations than we've seen in the past.”

A prime example of this is a nine-inch drop axle. With the manufactured axle technology in place, Rickman said that the industry can now build an axle that can be placed in the pusher position on a short-wheelbase, single axle truck. When this axle is in the lifted position, it has enough clearance to wrap around the driveline.

The reversible, steerable auxiliary axle is another trend that will grow in the future, Rickman said. “Again, it's the technology. We've learned how to manufacture an axle that will place the steering parallelogram in a positive 3°- 6° angle when the truck goes into reverse. Drivers and operators have indicated that it's a real benefit to not lift the axle when the truck reverses.

“Overall, the market trends indicate that there will be opportunities to install some auxiliary axles as stricter enforcement of existing weight laws takes place,” Rickman said. “You will also see the manufacturers moving to meet the demands of the users by introducing auxiliary axles that will use more technology in order to be friendlier to the end user.”

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