In the world of automatics, Allison Transmission has pull. The company builds automatic transmissions for commercial-duty vehicles. Allison's customers include OEMs of garbage trucks and city transit buses, military transports, and dump trucks. The company also makes electric drives for buses and shuttles (it is the world's #1 heavy-duty hybrid producer), and remanufactures transmissions for aftermarket customers. Private equity firms The Carlyle Group and Onex Corp. each owned about half of the company until they took it public in 2012.
The company hoped to raise as much as $750 million dollars through the IPO, but ended up with $500 million when it priced in March 2012. Allison will use a portion of the proceeds to pay down debt, which was about $3.7 billion at the end of 2010.
Despite the transmission-maker's recessionary hurdles to raise revenues, curb costs, and shrink debt, Allison has managed to grow its presence in a number of developing markets. In green technologies, it ranks as the largest supplier of hybrid electric drivetrains for transit buses -- accounting for about 8% of sales in 2010 and counting more than 4,000 buses in nine countries, as of early 2011. Thanks in part to a $62.8 million grant by the US Department of Energy, the company bolstered its position in 2010 by setting up a new plant in Indianapolis to produce hybrid commercial-duty truck drive systems. If all goes as planned, the company will debut a fully automatic hybrid-propulsion system for commercial trucks in 2012. Allison also has an eye on expanding its Class 8 truck (heavy duty trucks weighing over 33,000 pounds) presence. To that end, the company has designed a transmission for Class 8 trucks primarily used to navigate urban streets.
Geographically, Allison is looking to expand operations in China and India, countries with growing bus and truck fleets. Its business in South America took a step forward late 2010 with orders for Allison transmission-equipped buses, supplied by mass transportation company Unimetro, to power Columbia's Bus Rapid Transit system. On the other side of the globe in Australia, Allison has scored a string of transmission contracts serving, for example, ground support OEM Bliss-Fox, waste management company Thiess Services, and bakery product supplier Fresh Start Bakeries. In 2010 Allison used its long relationship with Opel as a springboard to begin building a new plant in Hungary to assemble transmissions.
Allison customers include OEMs such as Daimler , Navistar (both accounting for about 10% of sales), BAE Systems, Blue Bird, Hino Motors, Tata Motors, Dongfeng Motor, and China FAW. Sales to OEMs account for about 75% of the company's sales. The company also counts the US military (20% of sales) as a customer.
Allison was founded in 1915 as the Indianapolis Speedway Team Company. Later known as the Allison Engineering Company, after founder Jim Allison (who also was a founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway), the company was sold to GM in 1929, the year after Allison's death. In 2007 GM sold Allison's assets (save for one light truck transmission plant) to The Carlyle Group and Onex Corp. – less