Whether it’s snow, rain, or sleet crashing down from the heavens above, a heavier-than-usual tow load attached to the back of one’s vehicle, or a combination of both, individuals and businesses alike have often worried about how less-than-optimal conditions will affect their ability to get what they need, to where they need to go.
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Enter, Auburn Gear. The automotive and construction gear manufacturer, based out of Auburn, Ind., has been filling this need, among others, for almost 75 years. Justin Smith, director of marketing for the company, talks about the history of Auburn Gear, why their gear-based products thrive in the automobile and construction markets, and previews the exciting new line of products they are set to unveil this year. Steve Engelhardt reports.
The name Auburn Gear has been around since 1982, but the company’s foundational blocks go back as far as 1938, when it operated under its original name of Board Warner, establishing itself over the years as one of North America’s largest independent producers of construction and automotive gear. Getting their foot in the door as one of the original OEM’s of limited slip differentials for some of the automobile industry’s biggest names, Smith says that his company has grown greatly from its humble roots to become the burgeoning business it is today.
Because of Auburn Gear’s longevity and diverse range of gear-based products, the makeup of their customer base produces a similar identity. And Smith says that he and his company enjoy, and prefer, it that way. “Doing business with the individual versus businesses produces different rewards for us,” he says, adding, “I’ve had guys come up to me and say, for example, ‘I have one of your gears in my ’72 Pontiac Trans-AM, and it still works great to this day.’”
He says their awareness and dedication to the human side to their business has allowed them to thrive in their relationships with customers. “Even if you’re a smaller customer we treat you no differently than one of our million dollar-plus companies,” he says.
Made in the USA
And yet, for as strong as its focus is on the customer, Auburn Gear truly distinguishes itself in not just its products, but the way it goes about manufacturing them as well. “I think one of our biggest differentiators is that we’re a 100 percent made-in-America company. Every part of our process is done right here in Indiana,” he says, “We stand behind our quality and are constantly improving our products and services.”
The company operates entirely out of their 44-acre headquarters in Auburn, with a production plant that spans 250,000 square feet, employs around 150 individuals, and is comprised of two different stations where raw materials, castings, and final products flow through. Smith says that while they have some inventory premade to always avoid having a quantity of zero, almost all of their products are designed and manufactured in their production facility at the time an order is placed.
“We’ll get an order, say, from a distributor, and we can guarantee that they will receive their order in a 24-48 hour window.”
A Product You Can Trust
Quality control is also a key part of Auburn’s manufacturing process, from the beginning to the end. Smith says that when developing a part, “we dissect every aspect of its functioning, down to the car and the make it will be applicable to,” adding, “we put our products through three tiers of testing and have V6 and V8 full rear engines that can truly gauge their effectiveness.” He says that even after the product prototypes have gone through this comprehensive process and are ready to be manufactured on a large scale, his plant workers will still take a certain number of parts out of a batch and bring them to their testing center again to ensure that everything is lining up the way they planned. “Before our products get into the end users’ hands, they can be assured that it has gone through a bevy of tests and can be guaranteed not to fail.”
And while the quality of their product is perhaps their biggest focus, Auburn Gear also offers a warranty program that is quite unlike any of its kind. Covering the standard one-year manufacturers warranty, they also offer their DREX program in addition. The DREX program adds three years of additional coverage on top of the four year, equating to four years of product coverage. And because Auburn Gear replaces every broken part with a brand new one, the warranty restarts for another three years each time a new part is ordered. “We really want our users to feel confident in what they’re getting, and if something should go wrong, they’re getting an equally good part with equal the coverage.”
When it comes to their actual product function, limited slip differential is their field of expertise, with an assortment of patented and designed products that are unlike anything else in the marketplace. For example, their ECTED (Electronically Controlled Traction Enhancing Differential) Max Locker, employs a “two differentials-in-one” system, as Smith says. “It’s a flip on the fly mode, so you don’t have to stop your vehicle, get out, and locks your hubs,” he says, adding, “there’s nothing you have to do except flip a switch to lock and engage the vehicle, and then flip it back and you’re back in limited slip mode.” In essence, if the locking fails for any reason, users will still maintain limited-slip mode and can ensure that every wheel on their vehicle will maintain traction no matter the conditions.
Smith says his products are engineered to enable success no matter what the conditions are, because sometimes it may not be safe, or even possible, for individuals to get out of their vehicle and make adjustments to their gears. With the Max Locker, in particular, Smith says that he put two of them on his ’93 Jeep Wrangler, and buried the vehicle up to its windows in snow. “The wheels were fully submerged, but with the two-switch mode and four-wheel drive, I was able to get out just fine. It really just takes you to a new level when comparing it to the capabilities of factory lockers.”
New Product Preview
Auburn Gear’s products equated to success for them in 2013, where Smith says they saw strong growth as a company overall, particularly in their aftermarket sector, where they “grew their market share by over $500,000” Keeping their foot on the pedal, Smith says that his company is more excited than ever, as they are set to unveil a whole new range of products in 2014. Smith says that this new line of products really excite him and his company, because “we have been developing them for the past two years and now that they’re finally hitting the market, it’s something we feel will be very successful and enjoyed by users in the marketplace.”
When developing these new products, in addition to their established line, Smith says that a good portion of his company’s research into the marketplace comes from simply surveying the current customer base, identifying current strengths as well as needs, and then reporting back to their engineers seeing if, through their skill and innovation, they can come through for them. “Certain needs will prove to be occurring in greater frequency, and we see those and go back to our engineers to see if we can fill the void.”
At the end of the day, Auburn Gear has used its established name to launch its initial success, but is also effectively keeping its finger on the pulse of its current market and adapting ahead of everyone else. It’s a recipe for success. With a reputation for quality, and a new line of revolutionary products set to shake up the market in 2014, Auburn Gear figures to maintain its position as a leader in the automotive industry, while also extending into many areas in the future as well.