Green telematics: The eco-driving opportunity

Green telematics: The eco-driving opportunity

Toyota Sweden recently offered a new iPhone app called ‘A Glass of Water’ that aims to help drivers go lighter on the gas pedal. The idea: If drivers drove so smoothly that a glass of water on the dashboard never spilled, they would also be driving as fuel-efficiently as possible. The app, developed by ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi Sweden, lets users analyze each drive and see where they could have improved. They also can go to Toyota’s website to see how they rank against other users.

Toyota says that if all drivers in Sweden could avoid spilling the glass of water, they would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 2 million tons per year. This is one of many new “eco-driving” applications appearing on dashboards and websites around the world. These apps generally fall into two categories: changing fuel-wasting driver behavior, such as accelerating too quickly, or finding the best route to reduce unnecessary mileage and idling in traffic. Those familiar with the auto telematics space may have a sense of déjà vu.

There are several solutions already being used to help fleet drivers be more efficient, while navigation systems in consumer vehicles are available with predictive routing. The industry should be wary of being seen as green-washing, as well as of promising more than it can deliver, says Joe Berry, founder of JBJ Advisors. “Everybody is trying to invent an eco routing application, because it sounds cool and friendly,” Berry says. “Wouldn’t it be better if you concentrated on giving me a car that got better mileage, rather than giving me the same routing information and packaging it to be eco-friendly?”

Greener fleets

On the fleet management side, GreenDriver, a fleet solution that combines in-vehicle hardware with a cellular connection and online training and certification, is among the newest entrants. (For more on the relationship between fleets and eco-apps, see ‘How telematics can green the fleet’.) GreenDriver’s solution provides score cards for a whole fleet as well as individual drivers, along with tools to analyze information, such as rate of acceleration and deceleration, idle time, RPMs, and the speed of the vehicle to identify areas for improvement. “We have found instances in which a driver, literally for the entire week, doesn’t shut off the vehicle at all,” says Jeff Pursell, GreenDriver’s product manager. “That’s one of the behaviors we’re trying to improve. When you’re idling more than 50 percent of the time, there’s obviously a great opportunity for savings.”

Cybit, a European provider of fleet tracking and telematics services, recently launched Sustainability+, which combines driver performance management software with GPS-enabled fleet tracking. Real-time measurement of driving behavior results in an ecoScore, which is configurable to the individual business and measures driving styles, road types, conditions, and distances driven by calculating points-per-mile for each driver.

The information can be compiled into an individual driver report that allows a month-by-month comparison of performance and trends. David Alexander, principal analyst for automotive technology at ABI Research, says that a 15 percent savings on fuel costs is a good return on investment for a fleet manager, although how much any particular company might save depends on how efficient the drivers were before.

The consumer play

When it comes to eco-routing for nonprofessional drivers, Total Traffic HD Plus, a service from Clear Channel Radio’s Total Traffic Network and Inrix, gives drivers real-time traffic flow information on highways and major metropolitan routes as well as predictive traffic flow, enabling them to avoid traffic snarls.

(For more on traffic flow info, see ‘Navigation 3.0: What's next for nav?’) There already exist many other applications for consumers to check their fuel efficiency, according to Alexander.

He points out that BMW’s MPG meter has been standard for decades, while adaptive cruise control and automatic start-stop are other examples of features already in the market that can provide eco benefits. That’s not to say that some of these apps aren’t cool and fun for non-professional drivers nor that they won’t reduce gas consumption and CO2 emissions. Fiat found that its eco:Drive application reduced drivers’ fuel consumption and emissions by 6 percent on average, while the best 10 percent of drivers managed to improve by at least 16 percent.

Drivers plug a USB key containing eco:Drive into the car’s infotainment system, allowing it to record information about driving style. After the drive, users plug the key into a computer to see how they performed, where they can improve, and track their fuel and CO2 savings. Continental plans to include a green ‘eco’ button in its Simplify Your Ride application, which will automatically adjust the car’s engine, transmission management, and comfort systems for the most fuel-friendly ride. Alexander notes that, while many drivers would welcome tips on better driving, “There are also many drivers who don’t care about fuel economy, and a percentage who won’t bother to use even a free app.”

The hybrid and EV markets have spurred interest in green driving applications for conventional cars, according to Alexander. “Many early customers of hybrid vehicles were dismayed when they discovered they were not getting anything like the fuel economy advertised,” he says. “This was mainly down to bad driving habits involving heavy use of the right foot. Ford did a nationwide tour to educate hybrid customers on how to get the best out of their vehicles, and, it turns out, those techniques also would produce substantial savings if applied in gas-powered vehicles, too.”

The market opportunity

“For Fiat, I can see it helping to build brand loyalty with a portion of its customer base,” Alexander says. “The idea of an online eco-driver community makes it more than just an individual driving tutorial. By creating similar apps to the Fiat eco:Drive, OEMs can attract customers who want to be seen as good environmentalists or who simply want to save money on fuel.” Alexander does not see a huge business opportunity here beyond brand loyalty, because it’s unlikely that consumers will pay for eco-driving apps. However, he thinks that if more OEMs could be persuaded to make the journey data available in the same format that Fiat uses, there might be potential for a broader online community, which might eventually develop into a business opportunity.

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.

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