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Our History

75 Years of Innovation

The Detroit Legacy

In 2013, we were extremely proud to celebrate our 75th anniversary. A lot has changed since 1938, but a few things have remained constant: the spirit of innovation that has driven our technology, a never ending commitment to the highest quality standards, and the dedication of good people working to make our company better and stronger every day. From the very beginning, we have been dreaming big, always pushing the limits of technology. This inspired approach has led to numerous industry breakthroughs, not to mention generations of satisfied customers. Hundreds of thousands of products have been pioneered out of our original thinking. From our very first engine, the Series 71, to our first four-cycle engine, to systems and components that continually raise the bar and put the industry on notice, we have been on a quest to deliver products superior in power, efficiency and durability.

A Family

Without a doubt, the heart and soul of Detroit Diesel Corporation is the community we have helped form — from the people who make our operation run to those who support and rely on our products day in and day out. We like to think of this community as one big family.

The Long Ride

We began our journey during a challenging period in our country’s history, the Great Depression. And as the years went on, challenges took different forms. New economic realities and changes in the world’s transportation needs spurred continuous innovation. We harnessed new energies and new technologies to serve the highway trucking industry with heavy-duty engines. We also began to reach markets across the world through a growing network of dealers and distributors. And we unlocked the doors to new product categories, like transmissions and axles that served as catalysts for even more growth. As you can tell, the road to 75 has not always been smooth or straight, but we’ve risen to meet every challenge along the way, emerging stronger and wiser each time.

A Green Era

Many of our innovations have set the standard for green technologies in the trucking industry. In order to meet changing energy demands, we built the first production engine with integrated electronic controls as a standard feature. Our fully electronic Series 60 engine revolutionized the industry with increased economy, computerized engine control and monitoring, and unprecedented longevity. Our DD15, equipped with BlueTec SCR emissions technology, has reduced greenhouse emissions while boosting fuel economy and efficiency. We are proud to be a good global citizen and to use our technological gifts to benefit both our customers and the planet.

See How We Got Here

1930s and 1940s

Our history began in 1938 when General Motors formed the GM Diesel Division, the origin of today’s Detroit Diesel Corporation. With World War II heating up, GM Diesel produced its first model: the Series 71. Tanks, landing craft, road building equipment and standby generators needed compact, lightweight, two-cycle engines. During this epic time, a tradition of strength, quality and dependability was born. By 1943, GM Diesel employed 4,300 people, more than 1,400 of them women. Together, these employees produced 57,892 engines in 1943 alone.

For its contribution to the war effort, GM Diesel received the Army-Navy “E” award.


Detroit - 1950s

After the war ended, GM Diesel recognized the growing opportunity of the on-highway truck market. The company developed heavy-duty engines to meet these commercial needs and began selling to clients other than GM in 1955. GM Diesel also began to focus on developing a worldwide distribution network of independent, authorized distributors and dealers to provide parts and service. In 1957, GM Diesel introduced the Series 53 engine, and put the Series 71 engine into use for both on-highway and off-road use. All engines within a Series were designed so that a vast majority of the parts were interchangeable. This made it easy to produce many models of various horsepower by simply adding cylinders.


Detroit - 1960s

In 1965, GM Diesel became Detroit Engine Division. Then, just five years later in 1970, General Motors consolidated the company with the closely allied transmission and gas turbine businesses of the Allison Division, forming the Detroit Allison Division. For the next 20 years, the Detroit Allison Division grew, tripling its sales during the 1960s alone.

1970s and 1980s

During the energy crisis, it became clear that the turbine engine couldn’t compete with the diesel engine for fuel efficiency. In 1980, Detroit Allison produced its first four-cycle engine. A few years later in the early 1980s diesel engine production split off as Detroit Allison Division while turbine engines remained as Allison Division.


In 1987, the Series 60® — the four-cycle heavy-duty engine that would become the signature of the company — was introduced as the first production engine to have integrated electronic controls as a standard feature. The Series 60 was developed to meet the demand for cleaner and more fuel-efficient heavy-duty engines, and quickly became the most popular heavy-duty diesel engine in the North American Class 8 truck market.


On January 1, 1988, a joint venture between Penske Corporation and General Motors created Detroit Diesel Corporation, the successor to the heavy-duty diesel engine business of the Detroit Allison Division. The deal gave Penske a 60% majority ownership in the new venture and infused new leadership through its CEO, former racecar driver Roger Penske. Penske’s unique brand of leadership helped direct the company in the face of a highly competitive marketplace where the price index had been stagnant for more than four years.


President Bill Clinton & Roger Penske lend their support to Detroit Diesel Corporation at the 1993 IPO.

By October 1993, Detroit Diesel Corporation had grown its on-highway heavy-duty market share to 33% from 3% only a few years earlier. The company also completed a successful initial public offering of common stock, becoming a publicly traded company listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the stock symbol “DDC.”


By 2000, Detroit Diesel Corporation was a dynamic and well-respected company within both the trucking industry and the investment community. In October of 2000, DaimlerChrysler, completed a tender offer for all outstanding shares of Detroit Diesel Corporation, including the 48.6% interest owned by Penske Corporation.

Following the acquisition, DaimlerChrysler consolidated various engine and other powertrain component activities (including Detroit and Mercedes-Benz industrial engines) into the Commercial Vehicle Division under a new business unit named DaimlerChrysler Powersystems. The new company brought together more than 34,000 employees and combined revenues of approximately $7 billion.


Detroit Diesel Corporation invested $350 million to refurbish and retool its plant for future business.


Detroit Diesel Corporation launched its DD engine platform with the DD15® Engine.


In 2008, Detroit Diesel Corporation was recognized for its Brownfield Redevelopment efforts, and also won the national EPA Phoenix Award for its plant.


The 1 millionth Series 60 engine was sold.


An additional $190 million investment allowed Detroit Diesel Corporation to launch BlueTec® emissions technology and the final engine of its new engine family: the Detroit DD platform of engines that includes the DD13®, DD15®, DD15 TC® and DD16® engines.


Detroit Diesel Corporation is named named one of the two 2011 Michigan Green Leaders in the Big Business category by the Detroit Free Press.


100,000th DD platform engine leaves the factory floor, while axles, Virtual Technician, transmissions and Detroit Genuine Parts are introduced.

Detroit Diesel Corporation is an affiliate of Daimler Trucks North America LLC, and is known simply as Detroit to encompass all engines and future products.

Through its corporate headquarters in Detroit, Michigan, Detroit has become a global leader in the diesel engine industry, manufacturing a complete line of heavy-duty diesel engines, axles and transmissions for the on-highway and vocational markets.

Detroit supports its complete line of products through a nationwide parts and distribution network, including 800-plus authorized service outlets in North America.

Detroit also has six remanufacturing centers strategically located throughout the United States, along with three worldwide parts distribution centers.

Read our Fast Facts for more information about Detroit.