OEMs, suppliers or telematics providers – who will own the digital tachograph?


Almost two years ago, the new EU finally implemented legislation mandating the installation of digital tachographs on all newly registered trucks weighing more than 3.5 tonnes and buses carrying more than nine persons.

Digital tachographs will gradually replace mechanical devices that became mandatory in the mid-1980s. Instead of waxed paper, driving times are now being recorded on smart cards. Even if the final technical standard has received a fair amount of criticism, that is arguably a big step forward.

The introduction of the digital tachograph has resulted in some new obligations and legislative constraints. Data download from the individual driver card is required every 28 days, and the mass storage of the digital tachograph unit must be downloaded every 95 days. Additionally, archived files must be held at the disposal of the authorities for a full year.

As with any other new legal duty, the obligations associated with the digital tachograph are hardly welcomed by anyone in the transportation industry. Others, however, regard the new device as a splendid business opportunity. After all, it's an advanced piece of electronics, required in every heavy commercial vehicle for regular compliance reporting. What could be more of an obvious business case for wireless communication?

Indeed, it seems like the whole truck industry is preparing for this. The Heavy Truck Interface Group of ACEA will release of a standard for downloading of digital tachograph data to the CAN-bus this year. When implemented, it will make the data available for telematics systems from any vendor via the FMS interface.

Remote downloading of tachograph data will then become a valuable addition to the range of applications offered by truck and transport telematics providers. For instance, Transics has already taken a position in this market segment through the acquisition of DIS, a French provider of IT solutions for tacho-based driving time registration.

The telematics industry players should, however, not expect to be able to keep this new market to themselves. Anticipated revenues from tachograph-related services are large enough to attract the interest of the major truck manufacturers in Europe.

Scania, for example, expects to provide wireless downloads of digital tachograph data for both driver cards and vehicle mass-storage in a near future. The Swedish truck maker believes that this type of service will increasingly become part of service and maintenance contracts. However, it remains to be seen how well future OEM tachograph data management systems will accommodate operators of mixed fleets.

Another complicating matter is the role of the tachograph suppliers, of which there are three major ones – Siemens VDO, Stoneridge and Actia – on the European market. Suddenly, what was once a relatively obscure truck component has become a strategic asset that may hold the key to substantial revenue streams.

So why not then transform the tachograph into a fully-fledged telematics device and offer fleet management services as a complement to remote download of tacho-data? The idea makes sense, but it could put the suppliers at odds with the OEMs' intentions to develop services of their own.

Ultimately, it will be up to the customers to decide who they trust best with their driving time data. At any rate, the tachograph has become more important than ever before.

Tobias Ryberg is a senior analyst and founding partner of Berg Insight, and has headed the company's M2M and telematics research program since 2004.

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