FMCA Report: Innovation Drives Spartan Chassis
Editor’s Note: The following article, authored by Mark Quasius for the March issue of Family Motor Coaching magazine published by the Cincinnati-based Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA), offers an overview of Charlotte, Mich.-based Spartan Chassis Inc. A division of Spartan Motors Inc., the company specializes in the design, engineering and production of specialty chassis and vehicles for myriad applications, including motorhomes. For the full report click here.
Motorhome owners are quite familiar with the Spartan chassis, which has been used as the foundation of a large selection of motorhomes for a number of years. But Spartan also is well known for its emergency response vehicles, defense vehicles, delivery vans, and trucks.
The Spartan Chassis company dates back to 1975 when Diamond Reo Inc., producer of trucks and other vehicles, went bankrupt. A group of four young engineers decided to strike out on their own and continue doing what they knew best, which was building trucks. Their goal to produce well-engineered custom trucks led to success, and Spartan Chassis grew.
Spartan entered the RV chassis business in 1986 and produced its first diesel-pusher RV chassis the following year. In 1996 a cooperative venture with Granning resulted in the introduction of independent front suspension (IFS) to the RV market. Continued engineering advances led to the production of a mid-engine diesel-pusher chassis in 2002, and the pioneering of an electronic ride height control system in 2003. Spartan also introduced the 650-horsepower K3 chassis in 2005, a no-camber design that eliminated bowed frames during the coach-building process. A joint engineering effort with TRW resulted in the introduction of Comfort Drive steering in 2006.
Today Spartan Chassis is a division of Spartan Motors Inc. In addition to Spartan Chassis’ offerings, the parent company designs, engineers, and manufactures specialty chassis, specialty vehicles, truck bodies, and aftermarket parts for the emergency response, government services, defense, delivery, fleet, and service markets. Spartan Motors collectively employs approximately 1,800 workers at facilities in Michigan, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Indiana, and Florida.
A trip around the Spartan Chassis plant in Charlotte, Michigan, reveals a flurry of activity. The defense segment is producing mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, such as the Cougar, to protect U.S. troops from the dangers of land mines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). Spartan recently received the Gold Medal Award from the Department of Defense for the fourth year in a row with a perfect score of 100. This distinction is in recognition of its quality control and on-time delivery. In fact, Spartan was one of only 38 companies out of nearly 6,000 suppliers to receive this award.
The company’s Emergency Response Vehicle segment is filled with fire apparatus custom-designed to each customer’s specifications. The familiar UPS and FedEx delivery vans are also being produced by Spartan in record numbers, although some of them are handled by the company’s Utilimaster facility in Bristol, Indiana.
Current RV Chassis
Spartan offers chassis with front, rear, or mid-engine designs, but the bulk of its RV chassis segment centers around three basic models. The most popular is the Mountain Master GT; this model is equipped with a Cummins ISL engine ranging between 380 and 450 horsepower and is coupled with an Allison 3000 MH transmission. Chassis can be custom-ordered by an RV builder and fitted with solid front axles or IFS and with disc or drum brakes.
Spartan also produces rear-radiator models, as well as chassis with hydraulic-fan-driven side radiators. The 500-horsepower K2 chassis steps up to the larger Cummins ISX12 engine and incorporates a side radiator equipped with a mechanical fan drive. IFS and front disc brakes are typical on the K2.
The 600-horsepower K3 chassis is the king of the field. A Cummins ISX15 engine is coupled with an Allison 4000 MH transmission. IFS, disc brakes on all three axles, automatic traction control, Hadley air leveling, and a side radiator with mechanical fan drive are all optional features on this chassis.
Every RV chassis is put on a chassis dynamometer and tested to verify powertrain operation and to test all of the electrical accessories and gauge functions. A laser wheel alignment is performed at the factory, but each motorhome builder must also check the wheel alignment once a coach is completed to allow for changes that may have occurred from the additional weight.
For the full report click here.