A Thunder Bay entrepreneur has developed an innovative new consumer product for the trailer towing market.
Dereck Legros, president of LBC Contracting, a licensed heavy trailer refurbisher in Thunder Bay, has taken some proven air bag technology used in highway semi trucks and transferred it for the recreational vehicle market.
His soon-to-be-patented Auto Flex Air Ride technology is designed to offer better highway handling for pickup truck owners, especially when hauling large campers or trailers under load.
Installing the Air Ride system involves a total replacement of the springs in a truck with his air bag suspension system.
“A spring is waiting for any excuse to relax,” said Legros. “As soon as you hit the brakes, the back of the vehicle goes up and your nose dives with all of the weight on the front axle. Now your control is totally different because your vehicle feels like it's being launched.”
His system eliminates the vehicle's need to squat when the brakes are applied.
“When you hit your brakes with Air Ride, everything doesn't nose dive, it stays level.”
The all-steel system bolts on to the spring hangars of a truck frame that consumers can either have installed or do themselves in their driveway within a matter of hours. The cost of a kit is $3,400. “It's the same as changing a spring,” said Legros, “and you're running the airlines and electrical into the cab.”
A toggle switch installed in the cab releases air to lower the vehicle for an easy trailer connection or to fully extend the Firestone air bags to 11 inches. Legros said installing the system won't affect a vehicle's warranty because no alterations are being made to the truck frame's structural integrity by cutting, welding or drilling holes.
“We tap into exactly the same brackets as the spring but we don't touch the frame anywhere. We haven't changed the frame or the load distribution or load-carrying points.”
The product also doesn't require any Ministry of Transportation or state transportation agency approvals because, again, it's not making major modifications to the vehicle.
The system uses the same leveling valve as on semi trucks, and the same type of air bags and air compressors, only scaled down, said Legros.
“It automatically starts up at 90 PSI and shuts off at 120. Everything is the same as the semi truck with larger air lines for less freezing problems in winter.”
Among the many benefits are improved tire traction under any weather or road condition, better fuel consumption, less sway, greatly improved braking, a smoother ride, and overall less wear-and-tear on tires and suspension.
“When we designed this, we did eight prototypes before we totally refined it.” Legros' company also offers a similar Air Ride bag technology for trailers – Trailer Flex – that delivers the same benefits and eliminates that distinct push-pull feeling from towing a camper.
Legros is poised for a breakout year in 2013 with a new distributor and installer in Colorado (Transwest Truck and RV) and in Hearst at Sam's Car Sales.
It's also featured in the Mr. Truck website. Legros' company has moved much of its manufacturing into Minnesota at Twin Harbours Machine who ship it out to American customers. The Canadian manufacturing, packaging and shipping is handled in Thunder Bay where Legros hopes to tap into the mining sector.
Legros attended the SEMA show in Las Vegas, the world's largest auto show in 2011 and 2012, and although their product received good media play, the hoopla of being on TV didn't translate into any immediate sales. But so far, individual customer feedback is good.
“Everybody is very impressed with the ride and installation.”
Legros said staff at the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre were “exceptional” in helping him on the promotional front with a revamped website featuring videos of the product and in securing him an introduction with Ford officials.
He hopes someday to make inroads with the major car companies having already made appearances at various Canadian innovation shows.