The Evolution of an Industry

In 1985 a small group of entrepreneurs led by industry veteran Donald J. “Jerry” Ehrlich began manufacturing trailers in Lafayette, Indiana. Wabash National Corporation was born. Back then, we had a modest goal of building five trailers a day and set out to learn what our customers needed in trailer designs. We did it the old-fashioned way: We asked them.

Opportunity Drives Innovation

By listening to the needs of the nation’s largest fleets and developing a collaborative approach to product development, Wabash grew quickly. Within a few years we were a $100 million company, and the transportation industry had definitely noticed the newcomer.

Our engineering efforts were, and still are, led by Rod Ehrlich, an innovator who learns best by talking to maintenance managers and drivers, crawling under trailers and following them down the highway. His infamous napkin sketches detailing new ideas and enhancements are often drawn in maintenance shops and terminals. They become part of design files as our products move from concept to R&D to the manufacturing floor. The patents for trailer innovations began adding up.

In 1987, we began manufacturing RoadRailer® trailers and by 1991 had acquired the bimodal technology that allows trailers to easily move from railways to roadways. Today, Wabash is still the only company that offers this innovative product.

No Shortcuts in Expert Engineering

The next major breakthrough came in 1995 when we began full-scale production of refrigerated van trailers at our newly opened South Plant location in Lafayette. Using a proprietary process, we injected foam insulation into the sidewalls and roof of the refrigerated trailers in a single step prior to assembly, vastly improving both the thermal efficiency and trailer durability.

In 1996, after 10 years of development, Wabash unveiled DuraPlate® composite panel technology for use in trailer sidewall design, the first of its kind in the industry. Nearly a decade later our competitors would introduce their own composite panels, but to this day, none rival the durability and performance of the American-made original. The DuraPlate composite material eventually became part of our trailer door and nose designs and aerodynamic products.

Inventions and Expansion

Again in 2003, Wabash National responded to customer needs with the launch of the DuraPlate HD® dry freight van which was specifically developed for abusive freight applications and heavy-duty hauls such as automotive, carpet, and paper.

In 2006 and 2008, we grew through acquisitions. Wabash National welcomed Transcraft – one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of flatbed and drop-deck trailers – to the family, followed by certain assets of Benson International. Benson’s aluminum platform trailers rounded out our product portfolio, which now includes steel, combo, and lighter-weight aluminum flatbed trailers for a growing customer segment. Flatbed manufacturing was later consolidated in a state-of-the-art, 180,000 sq. ft. facility in Cadiz, KY.

Wabash’s latest product introduction represents another industry first. In 2011 we partnered with Nussbaum Transportation, a national truckload carrier, and its customer, appliance manufacturer Electrolux, to develop a dual-function, extreme-duty dry freight van, the industry’s first dry van with a 35,000-pound floor rating.

Attention To Detail

At Wabash, we believe that trailer design is both an art and a science and understand that small solutions can solve major problems. We’ve authored over 70 patents, 60 attributed to Rod Ehrlich, the “Wizard of Wabash,” who today serves in the role of Chief Technology Officer.

From doors to lockrod systems, electrical and lighting enhancements, floor designs and engineering advancements that minimize freight damage and reduce equipment maintenance, we’ve never stopped innovating. The result has been dramatic improvements in safety, ease of use, durability, and performance, benefits that have been rolled out into to the industry over the past 28 years. At Wabash National we’re proud of our strong legacy of product innovation and the way our products have shaped the trailer manufacturing industry. As we enter the next exciting chapter of our company, we remain committed to partnering with our customers to achieve success.