Q&A: Factory-fitted commercial telematics versus aftermarket

Q&A: Factory-fitted commercial telematics versus aftermarket

Filip Van Thielen is an accomplished test driver, a sought-after advanced driver trainer with engagements all over the world, and a popular speaker on fleet telematics. His professional experience spans half a dozen logistics jobs with the likes of Kuwait Petroleum, Cabot Corporation and Rhenus Logistics.

At Daimler, he is responsible for international sales and marketing of FleetBoard, the company’s telematics and fleet management solution. Van Thielen spoke to TU’s Jan Stojaspal about whether factory-fitted commercial telematics will hold their own against the aftermarket, including, most recently, smartphone- and tablet-based fleet management solutions. 

The variety of aftermarket solutions for commercial telematics continues to grow. Lately, people have been asking whether smartphone- and tablet-based applications might actually be the future. How does that bode for OEM-manufactured, factory-installed systems like Daimler’s FleetBoard?

There is no replacing manufacturer-installed, embedded telematics. We are the only ones who have access to accurate vehicle data, and I am quite convinced that we will not open up this data to third-party suppliers of commercial telematics.

There are a lot of third-party suppliers who, for instance, make conclusions about fuel efficiency based on driver behavior data only. We, at Daimler, consider this not the correct way.

Driver behavior is just one factor affecting fuel consumption. If the truck driver is under difficult circumstances, with a lot of weight in the mountains, for example, it’s quite normal that he has high fuel consumption. A system that does not consider this will issue false alarms.

We have a lot of customers who run double systems. Then they come back to us and say, ‘Look, we get completely different outcomes.’  

A typical example is if you use the eco-roll function, and your speed varies, as a result. Some third-party systems will give a penalization because they see a variation in speed and conclude you are not driving efficiently. But, in fact, what the driver is doing is using the terrain, the hills, to keep his vehicle moving in the most fuel-efficient way. So it’s correct that the vehicle is not moving at the constant speed. Yet, he gets penalized in the first system, and he gets a bonus from us.

There is also a lot to be said for an onboard system working with the engine to further refine the truck’s performance, particularly as the driving task becomes more automated.

Yes, more and more technology is integrated into the truck, and it’s finally this technology that will make the truck the efficient tool that the manufacturer claims it to be. In the Actros, we have a braking computer that ensures constant brake pedal pressure, no matter if you are hauling 40 tons cargo or no cargo at all.

The computer is constantly monitoring the driver’s use of the brakes and counting how much brake pressure is needed. The same goes for engine brake, which requires us to take into consideration not only current speed but also RPMs and other factors. That’s a level of detail that you don’t get with an aftermarket FMS making conclusions based on algorithms and approximation.

You also make the case for making much of the analysis in the truck and transmitting only what is essential. Why is that?

When you start transmitting the information and then doing the analysis afterwards, you run the risk of losing crucial data in transmission and coming up with wrong results. Our preference is to have the onboard unit doing both the constant monitoring and some performance analysis. We want to be sure that the information we provide is correct.

This is also why we don’t like to give away raw data to our customers. If the customer asks for it, he gets it. We just need to be sure that if we provide data, interpretation is done as well. We can’t send you just a raw file and say, ‘Hey, go and play with it.’ This is because company A will have one kind of outcome, and company B will have another kind of outcome, solely based on how they process the data.

Still, Strategy Analytics reports that almost 75% of fleet operators with aftermarket telematics systems were “very satisfied.” Is that a concern?

I think there is high potential for co-existence, and we have been working hard in recent years, and investing a lot of money, to prepare interfaces with current FMS systems. When you are very satisfied with your own transport management system, and the big shipping companies all have them, it makes no sense to force you to switch to our own FMS system, only because you buy 20 Mercedes trucks.

By integrating, you get the best of both worlds. You keep the system you are happy with, and you get a lot of technical data on your truck from our onboard computer. We need not do the whole package from A to Z, and I think more and more third-party telematics providers are beginning to see that maybe it’s not such a bad idea to take this path as well. It gets them the full set of OEM technical data, and it saves them the constant expense of developing their own hardware.

If I take the top three truck owners in Belgium, each having over 1,000 trucks, they just say: ‘Look, if I buy a Mercedes, the onboard computer should be in it. If I buy a MAN, it’s the same. If I buy a Volvo, it’s the same. And you should be able to communicate with our FMS systems.’

What do you say to those who claim that next onboard computer will be the smartphone or the tablet?

The smartphone is a great tool for a subcontractor who doesn’t care about what his fuel consumption is. Many logistics companies indicate that their subcontractors’ fuel consumption is not of interest. They also indicate that there are frequent changes in subcontractors. All they need to do is track the goods that are being transported. For this, a smartphone application without CAN bus connection is sufficient.  

But I would be careful, even here. Our experience is that everything needs to be ruggedized. Things get destroyed in the truck. You would be lucky to get two or three months out of a Samsung tablet. It’s in a dirty or dusty environment, it gets dropped. It’s also not true that you cannot update an embedded system. We constantly remotely update our systems. It might not look as fancy as an iPhone or a Samsung. But we see a lot of advantages.

We may sometimes come across as less flexible. The customers are sometimes asking, ‘Why should I sign a contract for a test?’  And we tell them: ‘Look, guys, we are very secure about your data. We guarantee that we treat your data in a very careful way. You have location, you have driving times. What if it falls into the wrong hands?’ That makes you maybe a little less flexible. But I think, in the long term, it’s the best way to go. 

(A discussion of mobile platforms at Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2013 – Mobile Platforms Come to the Forefront – is available on demand through TUWebcast.)

(For more on the embedded-versus-smartphone debate, see Brought-in devices and commercial fleets.)

Jan Stojaspal is the editor of Telematics Update.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics Japan/China 2013 on Oct. 8-10 in Tokyo, Telematics Munich 2013 on Nov. 11-12 in Munich, Germany, Telematics for Fleet Management USA 2013 on Nov. 20-21 in Atlanta, Georgia, Content and Apps for Automotive USA 2013 on Dec. 11-12 in San Francisco, Consumer Telematics Show 2014 on Jan. 6, 2014, in Las Vegas. 

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: Telematics Connectivity Strategies Report 2013The Automotive HMI Report 2013Insurance Telematics Report 2013 and Fleet & Asset Management Report 2012.

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