Talking Trucks

Telematics and fleet management have been courting each other for some time now. The industry has been searching for a "killer" application that would unlock the value in the technology, and the technology providers have been refining their offerings in the hope that their products will be embraced wholeheartedly by the fleet management industry.

This has been a long process, but a new generation of products is appearing that is not only deriving concrete, quantifiable value for customers, but delivering this value at a much better price point.

The new wave in telematics is focusing on information coming from the vehicle Engine Computing Units (ECUs), tapping information that is normally hidden and rarely accessed, to give fleet maintenance managers the "inside scoop" on the status of a vehicle and how it is driven.

This information is invaluable in streamlining maintenance operations and increasing fleet utilization as a result of reducing unscheduled (or scheduled) "out of service" time. Feeding this real-life data into fleet management systems dramatically improves their worth and value as an asset management tool. More importantly, actual information about vehicle usage and the effect on operational expenses such as fuel consumption can be accessed to further tune operational practices.

Perhaps the biggest innovation is that the "tele" part of telematics is also changing. The value of the information is not dependent on instant detection, but on timely detection. This allows for the use of less expensive, local wireless technologies as opposed to cellular technologies that are paid for according to usage. Vehicles can transfer their data when they return to their base of operations at the end of the day, rather than needing to broadcast immediately, anywhere, anytime. Now, not only is the information's value increased and easier to prove, it's affordable.

Real life experience proves out the value in the information from the ECU. Investigation into actual driving habits of a broad spectrum of fleet types shows that there is a great deal of savings to be gained from, for example, reducing idling time.

Analysis of actual behavior reveals that it is not unusual for fleets to average one hour of excess idling per day per vehicle in their fleets. This is an insidious habit that even the drivers don't realize they are doing. But the effect on fleet costs is dramatic, not to mention the damage to the environment. To change this, however, tools must be put in place to raise awareness of the situation, and to proactively and positively change habits, and keep them changed.

Another benefit is the ability to streamline diagnosis and correction of problems. Being able to identify issues before a vehicle is even in a bay can easily save one hour of expensive technician time. Further, access to ECU information without physically connecting to an engine allows expensive routine maintenances to be avoided, providing more savings.

Battery voltage, fuel consumption, tire pressure—this is all information that can be automatically monitored and proactively acted upon without wasting effort, while getting to problems before they become cost or safety issues.

To sum-up, any fleet manager who is not looking into a proactive ECU-centric telematics application is ignoring a real opportunity to save money and improve safety immediately. This mating dance between the fleet industry and the technology providers appears to be over. Let the long-term relationships begin.