LAKE FOREST, Ill.—The elastomer-based suspension system Tenneco Automotive Inc. debuted as a concept on DaimlerChrysler A.G.'s fuel efficient prototype vehicle last year may soon become a reality.
A production application of an axle using rubber elements for springs would be the first of its kind in the industry, said Tim Weisenberger, executive director of manufacturing and engineering for elastomer products at Tenneco.
The company is marketing the weight- and space-saving independent rear suspension to both automotive and heavy-duty customers and hopes to have a contract in hand before the year is out—most likely for a heavy-duty application, according to Tom Jackson, senior vice president of global technology.
Tenneco also is marketing the new suspension system for trailer and public transportation applications with low-floor requirements, Mr. Weisenberger said.
The axle replaces traditional springs and associated mounts and brackets with a simple, metal tube and elastomeric spring elements. Featured initially on the Dodge ESX3 concept last year, the Elastomeric Torsional Axle is 18 pounds, or 30 percent lighter than conventional rear axles and requires 40 percent less packaging height.
The result is less intrusion of wheel wells into the interior of the vehicle, providing more space and a larger trunk area.
"We've actually installed (the axle) in a compact (test) vehicle," Mr. Jackson said. "Since the packaging is so much easier," engineers can reduce the wheel well space and get the trunk of the next size larger class vehicle.
For heavy-duty truck customers who always are interested in weight savings and a smoother ride, the bolt-on assembly also presents a more rugged suspension because it has fewer links and, therefore, higher durability, Mr. Weisenberger said.
"We also believe this technology is absolutely perfect for emerging markets...because of the fact that it is lightweight and requires very little assembly," Mr. Jackson added.