DETROIT -- American Axle & Mfg. Inc., which has been riding the wave of the North American light truck boom, is looking for more. The $3.1 billion Detroit-based manufacturer of axles, prop shafts and forgings has been on a solid growth track since its inception in March 1994 as an independent spawned from discarded General Motors Corp. operations.

Since it went public in January 1999, American Axle has met or beat Wall Street earnings projections in eight straight quarters, says Rick Dauch, vice president-sales. "And I don't think there is any other supplier that can say that."

Mr. Dauch (son of founder and Chief Executive Richard E. Dauch) says American Axle currently is knocking out 17,000 axles and 14,000 prop shafts per day. And although production has slowed somewhat with the overall new vehicle market, curtailing some plant overtime, the company still is running near full capacity more than five days per week.

"We are running at record production speeds," Mr. Dauch says. "And we haven't missed a shipment."

Since its formation, American Axle has invested $1.5 billion in its facilities and added 2,500 jobs in North America and 2,000 through international expansion and acquisitions.

Two critical product launches will occur this year, including output of axles for the GMT360 (Envoy, TrailBlazer and Bravada) already underway and production of axles for the upcoming revamped Dodge Ram pickup due later this year. The Ram contract is business American Axle took away from Dana Corp. and is one of the new contracts helping the company diversify from too heavy a reliance on GM. Once accounting for 99% of American Axle revenues, GM business now makes up 84% of sales. And that will fall to 73% once Ram production is in full swing, Mr. Dauch says.

The GMT360 program represents the first application of American Axle's Integrated Oil Pan front axle, which is lighter weight and takes up less space under the hood.

By 2002, Mr. Dauch says 75% of American Axle's product line will be less than two years old.

Here at the Society of Automotive Engineers exhibition, American Axle executives unveiled several new technologies they believe will further expand the company's market reach.

Among those is SmartBar, an electronically actuated stabilizer module designed to maximize sport/utility vehicle off-road performance. SmartBar employs an integrated electronic control module to disengage the stabilizer bar, allowing full wheel travel on rough terrain. The system can be driver and/or automatically activated.

American Axle says the device will appear in 2002 on an '03 all-terrain "aggressive" sport/utility vehicle produced by a Detroit-based automaker. The company says it hasn't decided where it will produce the device, but the initial program is for 50,000 vehicles (100,000 stabilizer bars).

American Axle also is showcasing modular front- and rear-end assemblies. It has put together a prototype of the systems using a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and is developing similar setups using a Chevrolet Tahoe, GMT360 platform and a Chrysler 300M.

Although there are no volume modular production programs underway, American Axle says it is bidding on a couple of projects for the 2004-2006 time frame. o