Jan Stojaspal reports on the first day of Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2013
After years of stagnating freight volumes and anemic vehicle sales, the European road transport industry is about to turn a corner, spelling fresh opportunities for commercial telematics.
But only companies with strong product differentiation and innovative thinking will thrive, said Frederic Bruneteau, managing director of Ptolemus Consulting Group, at the open of Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2013 in Amsterdam.
“It’s important to remain a bit like a kid,” he said. “You need to be open to new things.”
Bruneteau was one of a dozen speakers to take the floor on day one of a two-day Telematics Update conference looking at the future of commercial telematics, and vehicle information and communications technologies in Europe.
The impact of European eCall legislation was prominent on the agenda. In 2015, all new passenger and light commercial vehicles in Europe are expected to come fitted with an in-band modem capable of automatically dialing the nearest emergency response center in case of an accident.
But even more pressing seemed questions about whether smartphones are likely to replace embedded fleet telematics, how to manage the growing complexity of commercial telematics, and how best to safeguard one’s market position against the onslaught Google, major telcos and other recent market entrants.
Bruneteau called them “barbarians at the gate.”
Barbarians at the gate
According to Bruneteau, it is essential for companies to steer clear of services that can be “commoditized by the next Google move.” Instead, companies should focus on integrated solutions that are much harder to displace.
Integration of telematics solutions with CAN bus and customers’ backend systems is one example.
Another strategy is designing solutions around what Bruneteau called “four mandated hubs”: eCall, driver management (digital tachograph), pan-European road toll and tax management as envisioned by the European Electronic Toll Service (EETS) directive, and usage-based insurance.
“Those companies that are able to forge links and leverage channels will thrive,” he said.
Fredrik Callenryd, senior business analyst with Scania fleet management, also saw driver behavior monitoring as an important area of focus.
According to him, the need to reduce emissions in the 1990s resulted in much cleaner diesel engines. But it did little to reduce their fuel consumption.
Now thanks to telematics, fleet owners know that not all trucks and drivers perform alike. And driver monitoring and assistance systems, particularly ones that deliver instant real-time feedback, become a key tool. “Most of us need a personal coach to lose weight,” he said. “The driver needs the same.”
According to Callenryd, the role of telematics in the trucking business will only increase as more and more driving is handled by the trucks themselves. “The vehicle will become more intelligent, and step by step systems will eliminate driver mistakes,” he said.
“In the future, [driving a truck] might be as simple as entering the vehicle and turning the engine on,” he added. “The hardest part will perhaps be knowing the European legislation on the road.”
Although it is hard to imagine smartphones ever replacing such sophisticated systems as outlined by Callenryd, a panel of experts, composed of both OEM representatives and aftermarket solution providers, agreed that mobile devices are well suited to serve smaller fleets and independent contractors.
The road through complexity
In other developments, Kevin Moore, vice president, OEM sales, Telogis, discussed the growing need for customizable telematics platforms capable of moving data in and out of a broad range of related systems.
According to Moore, such platforms have a number of advantages over stand-alone systems. They scale more easily. They are easier to customize. And they better keep up with the ever changing demands of the market.
“The landscape shifts from factory-fit hardware to factory-fit data access,” Moore said.
The need to bill for a growing variety of data services separately is another sign of the growing complexity of the telematics landscape.
According to Rémi Demerlé, director for global partnerships at the Swedish M2M connectivity specialist Telenor Connexion, vehicles of the near future will have two to three separate data streams.
However, until now, each of these data streams would have required either its own SIM card or its own access point name (APN). In Amsterdam, Telenor Connexion demonstrated a new service that uses deep packet inspection to split billing without the need for multiple SIM cards or APNs.
eCall as game changer
Finally, no conclusive answers emerged as to whether eCall will be the game changer it has long been advertised to be. The European Union introduced eCall legislation in 2002 with the goal of implementing it in 2009.
The potential to bring connectivity to every single new European car remains undisputed. Still, as Michael Sena, president of Michael L Sena Consulting, remarked, the game has yet to change.
The Dutch government is one of 18 European countries participating in pilot projects to verify and predeploy eCall technology.
Last September, Dutch police tested four prototypes of eCall-enabled modems and found the results disappointing. The best success rate, as measured by the flawless delivery of the minimum data set, was only 80%.
Still, work continues, and it also continues on bringing eCall functionality to commercial vehicles transporting hazardous goods and possibly to a much broader subset of heavy goods vehicles, something the European Union envisions for 2017 or thereafter.
According to Jan van Hattem, senior project manager at the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, one thing is already clear.
It only makes sense to implement eCall for heavy goods vehicles if one can get reliable information on the type and size of cargo being transported, particularly when it comes to hazardous goods. Otherwise, “no information is better than unreliable information,” van Hattem said.
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