Suspension preparation

Paul Legros, left, and his brother Dereck, owners of Auto Flex Air Ride Suspension, prepare one of their air ride suspension systems in their Thunder Bay facility.

In 1959, brothers Dereck and Paul Legros’s auto suspension innovation was taking shape with its use on logging trucks.

Today their company, Auto Flex Air Ride Suspension, has adapted and fine-tuned their new air ride system, which is being incorporated into Coachmen’s Concord motorhomes.

“We’re the first air ride suspension manufacturer to hit the original equipment manufacturer market of the RV industry with this,” Dereck Legros said.

The technology aims to improve braking, provide better gas mileage, maintain vehicle ride height, improve road handling, and provide a more comfortable ride.

“We developed our own suspension to fit on travel trailers, fifth wheels and camper trailers because when I started to market it, most of the dealers were more interested in the tow-style vehicle,” Legros said. “In 2007, we started to manufacture our own suspensions for pickup trucks and then graduated into the RV industry, ambulances and buses while following the Qualified Vehicle Manufacturers program.”

Legros said they had to make sure that they didn’t void any warranty plans on new vehicles when doing the installations. This involved obtaining testing approval for the brake system from Link Engineering in Detroit to ensure that it was compatible with the rest of the vehicle.

“We worked closely with Ford Motor Company on that,” he said, adding their technology has been tested on all North American auto manufacturers. “Even with the Class A big motorhomes, their chargers are built by Ford Motor Company in Detroit. That’s where we got into the motorhome industry was through a Detroit chassis, made in Detroit.”

Legros says they were able to use some government grants and credits the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre as being the “driving force” for them since 2009. They also source all their steel, electrical, air, welding, grinding materials and supplies from more than 12 local companies.

“They got us an introduction and a phone call with our Canadian consulate and trade commissioner for the Canadian auto industry,” he said “And that directed us to the introduction with the executives at Ford Motor Company in Detroit.”

To land the Coachmen contract, Legros said they had to partner with a “tier one” manufacturing company in Windsor to have their suspension robotically welded and put together. Coachmen told Legros the Windsor plant house quality control is in line with the rest of the auto industry.

“I would love to see it done here. But the (Indiana) auto industry wants manufacturing within their distance, like a couple of hours away. They did not want to deal with somebody that is 17 hours away,” he said.

“We’re not set up to do that here but we do get invited to the measuring sessions on a yearly basis with the big three, Ford, Chevy and Dodge. We go and get our measurements on vehicles just in case there are any changes to the suspension. We do the prototype here and then send all of our drawings and information to our facility in Windsor.”

Coachmen is an international organization with all of its manufacturing done in Middlebury and Elkhart, Indiana.

Legros says they have been selling their suspension systems in Europe and have a patent on their product in Europe because of their involvement with Mercedes Benz in Germany. They also hold five different patents in North America.

“We’re just at the beginning stages,” Legros said. “It really hasn’t hit.”