Telematics and eco-driving solutions

With eco-driving solutions becoming increasingly common in passenger vehicles, attention is shifting from growing penetration rates to how to get drivers to stick with them past an initial rush of enthusiasm, how to broaden their appeal to older, more conservative drivers and how to translate their rich driving behavior data into further fuel savings.

A typical eco-driving solution today, and pretty much every carmaker offers one kind or another, looks at acceleration, braking, gear changes and speed, and nudges the driver toward a more economical pattern of lower revs, higher gears and stable cruising speeds via in-dash clues or more complex performance charts for offline viewing.

Stay with the regiment for a month, and eco-driving will become second nature, carmakers say, promising fuel savings of up to 25 percent. The problem is, many drivers start backsliding once the novelty of eco-driving wears off, and others are simply beyond reach.

“The thing we are challenged with is you can’t really drive to save fuel,” says Paul Aldighieri, a human machine interface (HMI) engineer at Ford. “The reasons why people drive tend to do with either getting some place quickly or … driving for the fun of it, which typically comes from the Gs, the acceleration, the braking and the handling. Both of these things … are a challenge to fuel economy.” (For more on HMIs, see Industry insight: Telematics and the human-machine interface.)

Challenges to fuel economy

How automakers meet this challenge varies widely. Aldighieri and his colleagues at Ford, for example, have immersed themselves in the study of behavior modification and behavioral economics in order to figure out how to give their eco-driving solutions the widest possible appeal.

The way they see it is the driver’s “little ego” will always want to drive the car for the fun of it. But they have also found that there are ways it can be coaxed into a more eco-friendly behavior, much in the same way diners can be subconsciously encouraged to eat healthier food by placing it in a more desirable place in a cafeteria.

What they also learned is that it matters a great deal how eco-driving suggestions are presented.

An instantaneous fuel economy gauge, a predecessor of most of today’s solutions, was easy for drivers to understand but fairly ineffective in altering behavior as it was not providing information the drivers already didn’t know, such as: Floor it and your fuel economy goes out the window.

In 2008, Ford therefore unveiled an alternative: a green vine that grew lusher with greener driving behavior. This solution appealed to the emotional side of the driver and received glowing reviews for innovation but turned out a bit too abstract for some drivers.

Therefore, in 2011, the company introduced yet another alternative as part of its EcoMode solution: a series of three flowers that grew petals depending on efficiency of gear changes, speed and anticipation; i.e. how smoothly a vehicle is being driven.

Today Ford’s electrified vehicles also have the option of what Aldighieri calls a “three-bar coach” which goes back to a more technical presentation consisting of three bars covering acceleration, braking and cruising speed. “We know there are these different motivations out there and we are trying to provide a dialogue in a manner that any given [person] wants to engage in,” Aldighieri says. (For more on EVs, see Industry insight: Electric vehicles and Industry insight: Telematics, electric vehicles and the connected home.)

Driving hints and tutorials

Fiat, another eco-driving pioneer, largely eschews playful in-dash graphics with eco:Drive, an easy-to-use computer and now also smartphone application that assigns each driver a score out of a hundred based on how he accelerates, brakes, changes gears and maintains cruising speeds—the higher the score, the more eco-friendly the drive.

To help drivers improve their scores, the application provides driving hints and tutorials and also keeps track of the total number of kilometers driven, CO2 emissions, total money saved and other useful statistics. According to Candido Peterlini, Fiat’s VP for marketing innovation, 30 to 40 days of using eco:Drive produces lasting modifications in driving behavior and fuel savings can reach up to 15 percent.

Still, Fiat would like to see eco:Drive become more of an everyday tool. Not only would it bolster its claim to be have the lowest average CO2 emissions of any car manufacturer in Europe but also allow it to continue collecting a slew of driving behavior data that it uses to refine its system.

As a result, it plans to add a social component to eco:Drive by this summer that will allow drivers to compare scores and compete for badges in a wide variety of categories, such as the best eco-driver in Italy, the best eco-driver in Europe or the best senior eco-driver. “We want to engage people over longer periods,” Peterlini says. “In order to do that we are going to leverage the drivers’ willingness to play.”

And plans are also underway to use individual eco-driving profiles to personalize eco-routing suggestions on Fiat’s navigation systems.


Michael Franke, a Volkswagen spokesman for product technologies, is not convinced by Fiat’s gamefication idea. “You should have the same technology and driving conditions, otherwise the results are not comparable,” he says.

But he, too, sees value in making eco-driving solutions more context-aware and integrated with navigation systems and traffic and weather information streams. In his view, future eco-driving solutions could take into consideration things like approaching speed limits, timing of traffic lights and also respond to ad hoc situations such as an accident a short distance down the road.

“This is the future,” Franke says. “Every car manufacturer is working on this. I am not sure at the moment when we will start serial production, but from my point of view it’s not so far away, maybe 2015, 2016.”

Generally speaking, there are three main concerns that motivate drivers to adopt a more eco-friendly driving style: environmental, financial and, in the United States, also dependence on foreign oil, given the country’s fraught relations with many oil-producing countries. But these concerns alone are not enough to ensure a consistency of use of any given eco-driving solution.

Solutions with daily relevance

What is needed are solutions that have a daily relevance for the driver, says Roger Lanctot, associate director for automotive multimedia & communications service at Strategy Analytics.

Gamefication will only appeal to some people. “There are some maniacs out there who want to find out the maximum range or the maximum efficiency that can achieve,” he says. “Is that 10 percent of drivers? Is it five percent? Is it 20 percent?”

But he believes affinity programs that reward drivers for eco-driving much like credit card companies reward shoppers for every purchase could have a much bigger impact. “Without creating the affinity program element, it just becomes kind of a nice-to-have, a check-off,” he says. “It creates a little bit of a halo, a positive feeling about the car ownership, but you are not in the top three of vehicle selection criteria generally.”

The question is who will run such affinity programs. It makes no sense for car dealers, says Chris Schreiner, director of user experience practice at Strategy Analytics. “I don’t see dealers or those kinds of garages [saying] ‘Hey, let’s help them drive their cars better, so that they don’t run into as many problems, so that they don’t come here, and then we’ll reward them by giving them something for free,’” he says.

But it could work for gas station chains or providers of usage-based car insurance, many of whom already calculate premiums based on extensive monitoring of driver behavior. “Everybody is trying to figure this out,” Lanctot adds. “Will this affinity proposition be dominated by Apple and Google and Yahoo! or will it be the insurance [sector] or will it be the oil companies or will it be the rental car companies? Or will they be built around PayPal and MasterCard? … That has not yet been determined.” (For more on affinity programs, see Viewpoint: Is there a future for usage-based insurance?)

To be sure, there will always be drivers reluctant to work on their driving style. Schreiner summarizes their attitude as follows: “No, this is how I do it. I know how to drive … Don’t tell me I am doing it wrong, especially don’t tell me I am doing it wrong when I have a passenger in the car and embarrass me in front of my wife who doesn’t think I drive well to begin with.”

Cruise control

But even these are not beyond helping due to advances in intelligent drive trains, says Kevin Mak, an automotive electronics service analyst at Strategy Analytics.

Many higher-end vehicles already come with a choice of sporty and economical driving modes, and features like engine start-stop are becoming common even on traditional combustion engine vehicles, not just hybrids.

Last year, Ford introduced Eco Cruise, a cruise control that allows for wider variation in cruising speeds, something that’s particularly useful when driving in hills. And there are also a slew of other improvements from turbo-charged smaller motors to automatic cylinder shut-off promising further savings.

Ultimately, these various bits and pieces are expected to converge around a single holistic approach that will cover the entire value chain and encompass everything from renewable energy-powered car plants and latest advances in efficient engine technologies to eco-driving. “In the future we want to connect all the systems together … to ensure the best fuel economy,” says Franke of Volkswagen whose Think Blue strategy is a good example of the beginning of such a holistic approach.

Taken individually, the small incremental advances may not look like much, Ford’s Aldighieri says. But “if you make the information that you are showing the driver fun to digest, if you can make the Eco Cruise, fuel shut-off when you lift off the throttle, different ways to decrease the flow of gasoline into the vehicle at painless points, if you can pick up a few percentage points through all these means, then it starts to add up.”

Jan Stojaspal is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on eco-driving, see Industry insight: Electric vehicles and Industry insight: Telematics, electric vehicles and the connected home.

For more on eco-driving, visit Insurance Telematics USA 2013 on September 4-5 in Chicago.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Insurance Telematics Europe 2013 on May 7-8 in London, Data Business for Connected Vehicles Japan 2013 on May 15-16 in Tokyo, Telematics Detroit 2013 on June 5-6, Content & Apps for Automotive Europe 2013 on June 18-19 in Munich, Telematics Russia 2013 on September 9-10 in Moscow, Telematics LATAM 2013 in September in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Telematics Japan 2013 on October 8-10 in Tokyo and Telematics Munich 2013 on November 11-12.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report, Human Machine Interface Technologies and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.

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