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From management tool to an omnipresent technology
The move means that not only will fleets be able to use telemetry to optimise vehicle running and for security, but that the technology will in the future play an inherent but essential role in preventing accidents, enhancing safety and facilitating maintenance, even notifying when cars are due for a service or of imminent mechanical problems.
Already car manufacturers are using such as Volvo are using in-car systems to provide emergency call responses for accidents or breakdowns, along with remote diagnostics and vehicle tracking.
But as the automotive industry increasingly recognises the further potential of telemetry to deliver value-added benefits to drivers, it’s clear that the sky’s the limit for the telematics sector, leading to increased opportunities for technology partnerships.
Steve Blackburn, European vice president of Navman Wireless, believes that the developments in in-car telemetry will lead to a lot more tie-ups between carmakers and telematics firms over factory-fitted systems.
He explains: ‘Because of course we can bring fault codes back today but what does that fault code mean? That’s where I think the manufacturers will get involved because of course if that orange light comes in your vehicle and, as the manufacturers are constantly telling us, it could be one of anything from 2-500 faults then the customer needs very good advice.
‘The big question that is on everybody’s lips is where’s that going to go, where’s that going to take us as an industry? And as vehicles get more and more involved – and as initiatives such as eCall take off, we are starting to see top-end vehicles produced with boxes, with SIMs in.’
This will lead to increased supplier opportunities, continues Mr Blackburn. ‘If the vehicle breaks down, are you going to have a recovery package? The cellular companies will also want to give you additional services on top. And once you start looking at that and tying in everything you could possibly need on the vehicle – breakdown and recovery services, remote fault code diagnostics, the ability – which we do already – to communicate with the navigation devices – then it truly does become a computer on wheels.’
ENRICHING THE INSURANCE MARKET
The data generated by telematics systems is also set to advance into other areas, as Thomas Schmidt, managing director, TomTom Business Solutions, explains.
‘The wealth of accurate driver behaviour data generated by fleet management technologies, such as feedback on drivers’ performance behind the wheel, can go a long way to enriching other fleet product and service offerings,’ he comments.
‘As a result, we can expect to see continued growth of alliances between fleet management system providers and other fleet suppliers, such as vehicle leasing and insurance companies.
‘TomTom Business Solutions has developed fleet management systems that monitor driver behaviour in real time and that can generate historic reports, detailing information on everything from harsh steering, braking and acceleration to mileage, fuel consumption and vehicles’ RPM. We are continually looking to leverage our assets to improve driver safety and businesses’ carbon footprint, whilst also improving company productivity and efficiency.
‘As part of this commitment we are a well positioned for partnerships with insurance or leasing companies that are willing to promote, and reward, safe drivers.’
Already one such leasing company that is using telemetry to great effect is ALD Automotive. Its ProFleet2 system is fitted to over 20,000 cars and light commercial vehicles in the UK and has been integrated seamlessly within the firm’s operational leasing offer since 2004.
Originally developed to remind drivers to service their vehicles on time and improve the service booking process, it has since evolved into a proven and all-encompassing fleet management solution that includes fleet benchmarking and optional GPS ‘track and trace’ functionality.
But telematics is also increasingly breaking into the insurance arena through Pay As You Drive packages.
For example GreenRoad, which uses technology to provide driver safety and fuel-economy services, has relationships with Zurich, Marsh, Towergate, Admiral and Belmont International.
Meanwhile UK-based telematics firm Quartix supplies Coverbox with its latest vehicle tracking device. Coverbox is an online insurer and one of Europe’s top pay as you drive brands, and the technology is provided to policyholders as part of the PAYD scheme which enables them to qualify for discounts if the system detects their mileage is less than anticipated or their journeys have been made in off-peak periods when fewer accidents occur. On-screen “dashboard” reports give details of usage and driving patterns, and bills are also displayed.
And BMW is also said to be heading into the insurance telematics field with a factory-fitted solution that would be used to provide data for insurers for underwriting and claims but would also play a role in diagnostics and eCall functionality.
On the plus side, PAYD insurance based on telematics is reckoned to be fairer to
safer drivers and people who drive less as they no longer need to subsidise costs for higher-mileage or more reckless drivers. There’s also the argument that such systems can lead to safer or reduced driving, resulting in fewer crashes and insurance claims. As a result good drivers can be compensated with bonus points or reward miles, which can lead to reduced insurance premiums.
Yet there are some criticisms of PAYD too.
For instance Navman Wireless’s Steve Blackburn says: ‘One of the problems has been in the past when insurance companies have produced offers for end-users, it was advertised as you’ll get a big discount, but when you read the small print, it means you’ll get a retrospective discount after a year if you do this, if you stay with us [the insurance firm] for the next two years. Customers just looked at it and thought this isn’t appealing at all.
‘Insurance companies know there is an opportunity here and people have been trying for years to find this magic formula – there’s been great talk about pay as you go insurance – but it’ll be interesting to see where the market goes and whether somebody comes along with that magic solution that works for both parties.’
THE PORTABLE SOLUTION
One further future avenue for telematics is in the form of portable devices. Smartphone sales are booming, with an ever-increasing model range, all with the built-in GPS and accelerometer sensors and processing power that could make them ideal as a basis for a telematics system and firms such as TRACKER are already going down this route.
Benefits include improved cost due to the removal of the need for in-car installation but on the downside drivers need to be trusted to leave the phone switched on while on the road. Concerns have also been raised over whether such increased usage could bring down the networks.
Other issues with smartphone usage include the sheer wealth of phones out there that the apps would need to be interfaced with. And then there’s the problem with making sure that the device is user-friendly enough for out on the road.
ELEVATED FLEET MANAGEMENT
As telematics breaks into new areas, the applications for fleet management are becoming ever more sophisticated too.
Sergio Barata, head of EMEA, Telogis, says that there is certainly a demand for telematics to be closely integrated with other fleet and enterprise systems to deliver location intelligence.
He comments: ‘Typically we see GPS-based fleet management, routing, navigation, and work order management software applications being enhanced by telematics information generated in-vehicle. Only by combining location intelligence applications in this way, will companies get the most business benefit from the information that is potentially at their fingertips.’
Firms can also benefit from newly enhanced services to meet pan-European needs, including Navman Wireless, which is rolling out just such a service to its customers.
Steve Blackburn says: ‘Pan-European used to be very challenging simply because of the roaming charges on the networks. What we’ve done is put together pan-European packages so we can go to a company and we can say, “For a flat fee you can roam anywhere in Europe and you can use unlimited messaging.” This has made a huge difference in companies like for example Italy where roaming is absolutely immense – we’re seeing more and more movements across Europe and so the fact that we can offer customers a fixed-price solution is immense. It means that businesses can budget effectively for what they’re going to be investing in the solutions.’
Steve Towe, Masternaut’s European managing director, also says that Masternaut is now positioned to provide pan-European fleet measurement.
He comments: ‘This means that CEOs can be provided with the global view; regional directors with responsibility for specific areas can review the performance of their region whilst country managers are better able to report detailed accounts of local vehicle use and activity. This provision of management information often takes the form of strategic business reporting rather than the traditional provision of operational workflow or location-based services.’
He adds: ‘Increasingly, the largest fleet operators are seeking to manage their fleet with umbrella-contracts and benchmark performance country-by-country, region-by-region and branch-by-branch. This provision of management information is providing progressive layers of benefit again above and beyond the traditional location-based market.’
For pan-European fleets, such developments increasingly make the take-up of telematics a “no-brainer” as the reduced costs make for a clearer case for the improved efficiencies and other advantage of telematics.
But as telematics technologies develop and expand into new areas, from the cars themselves to smartphones, it’s likely that telemetry in one form or another will have a strong involvement with the company cars and the company car drivers of the future.