Telematics and eco-friendly driving

Telematics and eco-friendly driving

With increasing standards and mandates for fuel efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions comes more interest in eco-friendly cars. But there’s also a growing interest in creating more eco-friendly drivers.

Engines and vehicle power systems are evolving, but auto manufacturers like Fiat and BMW, among others, are also looking at driver behavior as a means of reducing vehicle emissions. Luca DeAmbroggi, an analyst with IHS Automotive, cites a recent internal BMW study that found fuel efficiency to be up to 20 percent adjustable by the driver.

“I know how Italians drive,” he adds. “It’s absolutely true.”

Fiat’s eco:Drive

Fiat’s eco:Drive program, which launched in October 2008 and is now available on all Fiat and Fiat Professional vehicles in Europe and the Fiat 500 in the US, is based on a similar premise: that “eco-driving can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by helping people use less fuel,” according to Eco-Driving Uncovered, a 2010 Fiat study in Europe.

Fiat has been lauded as the brand with lowest fuel emissions in the world for four years running, notes Candido Peterlini, director of infotainment systems for Fiat Group. “Everyone in our organization is looking to support this value.”

Whether motivated by corporate values, saving the environment, or saving drivers money, OEMs are taking action to make their vehicles more efficient and those driving them more effective.

Eco-friendly approaches

“OEMs are under pressure,” says DeAmbroggi. And this pressure for fuel efficiency, as mandated by governments, will only increase. Drivers may also be interested in “a greener vision,” he adds.

But they won’t want their cars to accelerate slowly or only go 50 miles per hour, so OEMs have to be creative as they find ways to maximize fuel efficiency and minimize emissions.

Nearly every major OEM is working with active technology like BMW’s Auto Stop Start function, which powers down the engine whenever it comes to a full stop (at a traffic light or stuck in traffic), then restarts automatically when it’s time to get going again, saving fuel in the process.

Other possibilities would allow the car to react and change parameters in the engine or HVAC system to conserve or reallocate energy, notes DeAmbroggi.

And, of course, engine adjustments from hybrids to electric power to hydrogen are also in development (and on the road), but telematics can be especially helpful with the driver-behavior component of reducing emissions. (For more on electric vehicles, see Industry insight: Telematics, electric vehicles and the connected home.)

Managing driver behavior

Fiat’s eco:Drive includes three elements, explains Peterlini: a car equipped with Fiat’s Blue&Me telematics system, a USB stick to plug into the car to collect driving data, and an Internet-connected computer to analyze the data via the eco:Drive application. Fiat also offers a wireless, smartphone-enabled version of eco:Drive that gathers and transmits driving data via mobile phone.

The eco:Drive algorithm then translates the data into a specific rating of the driver’s behavior and offers tips for improvement in four areas: acceleration, gear changes, average speed, and deceleration. (For more on driver behavior, see Industry insight: Insurance telematics.)

Currently the feedback comes after the fact, not in the vehicle, which so far makes eco:Drive more of an eco-assist program, rather than a true eco-routing one, notes DeAmbroggi. “Eco-routing is on the fly, something connected to the navigation system that communicates with a service,” he explains.

Although he urges caution where immediate driving feedback is concerned (a comment on every push of the pedal could be distracting), he says the benefit of eco-routing is the ability to suggest a more fuel-efficient path to your destination as well as offer helpful alerts about the location of gas stations or (more importantly) electric vehicle charging stations.

Maintaining driver interest

Although the Fiat study revealed that adjusting driver behaviors to include gradual acceleration, appropriate gear shifting, maintenance of a steady and moderate speed, and ‘efficient deceleration’ (releasing the gas pedal with the car in gear to slow down) can have an impact on fuel efficiency—in the 150-day study the average eco-driver decreased fuel consumption by 6 percent and the top-ten-percent of eco-drivers by 16 percent—these sorts of innovations are perhaps less engaging to consumers than technological upgrades, and their savings are difficult to measure precisely.

Then there’s the human-nature component. Peterlini says drivers are driven by their values, but also by time and cost savings, which is likely the main motivator at the beginning. Most people use eco:Drive continuously for about a month. “That’s the period where you really learn and improve to a point where it has an impact,” he says.

But after that their interest (and presumably their eco-driving skills) drop off. To maintain motivation, in 2010 Fiat introduced an element of competition and social interaction to eco:Drive. Anyone who wants to can be part of a pan-European eco-driving competition every day, with rankings and results listed on the eco:Drive website.

He reports a “huge increase” in usage since then, but he agrees that Fiat can only do so much. “It’s like a personal trainer,” he says. “Do you want to lose weight and get healthy? Follow the trainer’s instructions. If you don’t care, stay home and eat chips in front of the TV.”

Additional benefits

If OEMs are going to maximize the fuel efficiency potential of their vehicles, they’ll need all the tools in the arsenal, DeAmbroggi predicts, including passive and active vehicle technologies as well as telematics solutions.

“All the regulations today are based purely on the facts measured by the car itself,” says Peterlini. “So driving behavior is not yet a consideration.”

Fiat is in discussion with public organizations and hopes to encourage them to incentivize eco-driving. Increasing average speed by two or three kilometers per hour can reduce emissions, so cities should examine their traffic light management and timing, he suggests as an example.

Peterlini adds that eco-driving offers additional benefits such as reduced wear and tear on the driver’s vehicle, and therefore reduced maintenance costs. He also believes challenging yourself to drive using eco-techniques makes driving “kind of a game.” It’s simply more fun to get behind the wheel.

Fiat plans extended functionality for eco:Drive, which could cover vehicle maintenance and diagnostics soon as well. “A simple feature like [eco:Drive] is changing something,” he says. The program supports Fiat’s commitment to low fuel consumption and reduced emissions, and he believes it contributes to consumers’ sense of overall value for their vehicle: “It’s hard to measure precisely, but it’s good for our pillar of ecology.”

And, of course, moving forward with these eco-approaches also allows OEMs to “put their name under the green umbrella being waved everywhere,” DeAmbroggi says. Whatever environmental impact or regulations-compliance benefits eco-driving offers, “it’s fashion and it’s trendy, so it’s good to be there.”

Jessica Royer Ocken is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on eco-friendly driver behavior, see Industry insight: Insurance telematics and Industry insight: Telematics, electric vehicles and the connected home.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2013 on March 19-20 in Amsterdam, Telematics India and South Asia 2013 on April 17-18 in Bangalore, Insurance Telematics Europe 2013 on May 7-8 in London, Telematics Detroit 2013 on June 5-6, Content & Apps for Automotive Europe 2013 on June 18-19 in Munich and Telematics Russia 2013 in September in Moscow.

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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