Prudent use of telematics helped astute businesses navigate a path through the recession, while resistance to the technology is on the wane. Martin Gurdon reports on a sector on the move
We’ve grown used to in- vehicle telematics, and for commercial users the breadth of what this technology can do has never been greater.
Light commercial operators have embraced it with increasing enthusiasm, and many purveyors of telematics systems claim to have got through the recession pretty unscathed as a result.
Graham Gordon, marketing boss of telematics specialist Masternaut, reckons one reason for this is that resistance to the technology from drivers has lessened.
“Smartphones have GPS systems that track their users,” he says. “It’s just become acceptable.”
Jonathan Bates, Mix Telematics’ European product marking manager agrees, suggesting that this trend has also been driven by many businesses no longer seeing drivers as a problem that needed policing. Gordon thinks this is the biggest change to have impacted on the telematics sector in recent years: “With some of our larger accounts we’ve been explaining what we’re going to use the information for, with things like insurance and finding efficiencies – they no longer see this as ‘Big Brother’.” He adds that his company consults staff very early so that employees don’t simply turn up to work to be handed keys to telematics-equipped vans.
Masternaut surveyed 2000 van drivers and found that around three- quarters of them didn’t mind using vehicles fitted with this technology.
“When drivers say this, I think ‘Really? When did that happen?’’’ says Gordon.
Quartix’s marketing manager Claire Alleaume has witnessed a similar shift in attitude. She has also seen the technology increasingly spread from HGVs into smaller working vehicles, and suggests the vehicle tracking firm is picking up business from operators who sometimes only run one or two vans. However, on a global scale, Bates reckons LCV telematics penetration is still small beer, but will “more than treble” by 2017.
Gordon suggests it was easier to sell the idea of monitoring HGVs because generally they were driven exclusively for work purposes, with fleet-owned vehicles rarely, if ever, taken to their drivers’ homes. That’s not the case for LCVs, which for logistical and practical reasons are often stabled where their drivers live. This creates a potential industrial relations can of worms involving employers being able to keep tabs on their staff once they’ve finished work, something which Masternaut has got round with the simple expedient of providing the option of an ‘off’ switch for a vehicle’s driver out of working hours.
“The biggest thing is integration,” says Giles Margerison, TomTom’s UK and Ireland sales director. “Companies are looking to integrate things like scheduling and workflow.”
He says the technology is moving away from what he calls “in-cab screens” to systems that integrate elements such as on-board printing and bar code reading.
The satnav and mapping firm has launched an Android system for tablet computers, and he sees a consolidation of technologies that will eventually create a single device “that does everything”.
Gordon says that fuel is usually about 20% of a light commercial’s operating costs, but accounts for 50% of a heavy goods vehicle’s running expenditure, so equipment that factored in other whole-life costs, based in part on a driver’s mechanical sympathy, is becoming increasingly important.
Quartix’s Alleaume says fuel-use savings could be real and tangible. Pasty maker Ginsters is one of her firm’s clients. Within “a few months” of equipping its vehicles with telematics systems, Ginsters saw an overall 18% improvement in fuel consumption and a reduction in accident rates, she claims.
The suggestion that these systems can reduce insurance costs often also appears to be genuine. Another Quartix client, London-based building services provider Gratte Brothers, found vehicle speeds had dropped by around 17mph, while year-on-year accident numbers fell from 35 to 15. Many of the other telematics specialists we spoke to could provide similar stories.
There was some divergence of views on the use of speed limiters in LCVs, with some suggesting that these were often switched off, but everyone thought they were a useful adjunct to behaviour–changing telematics equipment. “A Mercedes Sprinter van is capable of driving like a car. At 90mph it’s a 3.5-tonne weapon,” says TomTom’s Margerison.
Many telematics systems that can flag up the likes of harsh braking and acceleration and were conceived to modify behaviour behind the wheel can also provide fleet managers with useful data on hard parts life. Once again, data integration is the watchword here.
Gordon says his company is harvesting data on real-world vehicle economy and providing it as a useful tool to fleet managers. His colleagues are collecting data on wear for items such as brake pads, and thinks that by the middle of 2016 this will also be useful for fleet operators.
So the exponential growth in the telematics market shows little sign of slowing down, with the ways in which it is being used only likely to increase adoption.