Weekly Brief: U.S. government gives thumbs-up to fleet telematics

Posted by Jan Stojaspal [1] on May 19, 2014

The U.S. government endorses telematics as a way to drive down agency spending, as GM releases pricing for its OnStar 4G LTE service. Andrew Tolve reports.

In this week’s Brief: U.S. General Services Administration, Government Accountability Office, U.S. Congress, Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, DENATRAN, Ireland’s Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, TomTom, AND, ALK Technologies, Mercedes-Benz, Vizzion, INRIX, GM and Ford.

Federal agencies in the U.S. government spend more than $1 billion a year leasing vehicles from the General Services Administration (GSA) – a cost burden that the government would like to draw down. Its solution: fleet telematics. In a watchdog report published last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which serves as a nonpartisan oversight arm of the U.S. Congress, concluded that telematics devices can provide “fleet managers with information – such as data on vehicle location, speed, or condition – that they can use to reduce fleet size, fuel use, misuse of vehicles and unnecessary maintenance.”

The report stopped short of recommending an all-out integration, noting that the GSA should first drive down the cost of telematics devices to make initiatives more affordable and should talk to agency fleet managers to collect their feedback on existing telematics devices in the field. The report pointed to the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory as an example of how big savings can be achieved when telematics is done right, noting that the lab has saved $390,000 since 2011 by embracing fleet telematics and reducing the size of its fleet by 65 vehicles.

The GAO also encouraged the GSA to use telematics to overhaul its leasing-rate structure, so that agencies pay for actual fuel used rather than a monthly fee based on miles traveled, which doesn’t account for fuel burned while idling, speeding or abrupt stopping and starting. “Principles for designing government fees suggest that having each agency pay for the fuel it actually uses could increase incentives to reduce fuel costs,” the GAO noted in its report.

The GSA agreed with the GAO’s findings and recommendations.

In other news, it was a mixed bag for telematics in Brazil last week, as the Brazilian government passed a new regulation that reduces the SIM card tax on M2M devices by 80%. The decree cuts two fees in the Telecommunications Inspection Fund (FISTEL): the Installation Inspection Tax that’s charged when a SIM is first activated and the Operation Inspection Fee (TFF), an annual charge on each active SIM. The move will provide a stimulus for operators to develop services like smart metering, car tracking and remote health monitoring.

On the flip side, DENATRAN, Brazil’s transportation ministry, announced a two-year delay to Contran 245, which mandates telematics-based stolen vehicle recovery technology to be factory-fitted in all new vehicles sold in Brazil. Contran 245 was first announced in 2006 and, like eCall in Europe, has faced a litany of delays and political setbacks since. DENATRAN kept mum on the reason behind the delay but announced the new start date as Jan. 1, 2016 – a date that no one should bank on.

Continuing the global telematics trot, Ireland got tough on texting while driving, as its Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport enacted a new law that replaces penalty points on a driver’s record with a mandatory court appearance and up to a €1,000 fine for a first-time offense, a €2,000 fine for a second-time offense and a €3,000 fine and a possible three-month jail stay for a third-time offense. Texting while driving penalties vary greatly from country to country and even from state to state in the United States, where a texting fine will set a first-time offender back a measly $20 in California versus up to $10,000 and a year in prison in Alaska.

In Russia, TomTom launched its Speed Cameras service, which provides drivers with up-to-date warnings of nearby speed and red-light cameras. TomTom says that its database includes more than 3,000 speed cams in Russia and that the service is easy for carmakers and app developers to integrate into their offerings. Russia is the 50th country where TomTom has taken TomTom Speed Cameras live.

In the Netherlands, Dutch mapmaker AND announced plans to expand its North American mapping database via a partnership with ALK Technologies. The two will build an enhanced map of the U.S. and Canada, which AND says will double its current coverage for navigation. The new map will be available by mid-2015.

Returning to the U.S., Mercedes-Benz launched a new traffic camera feature within its mbrace2 “Mercedes-Benz Apps” package that displays live traffic snapshots on the dash of the vehicle. The snapshots provide visual verification of traffic flow, incidents, and weather-related road conditions across the United States, drawing on images from nearly 20,000 cameras. The solution is powered by Vizzion and INRIX, and marks the first time that traffic cameras have entered the market directly integrated by an auto OEM. A three-month trial of the service is available for both new and pre-owned 2013 Mercedes vehicles.

Finally, GM announced pricing for its OnStar 4G LTE, which acts as a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot and allows passengers to connect smartphones, tablets and laptops for high-speed Internet in the car. Drivers will get a free three-month trial of the service. Once those three months expire, subscribers to existing OnStar services, such as OnStar Safe & Sound or OnStar Directions & Connections, will have the option of continuing on for $5 per month (200 megabytes of data) and $15 (one gigabyte). Non-subscribers will pay $10 and $20 for the same options. At the 3GB tier, both subscribers and non-subscribers will pay $30, at the 5GB tier $50.

GM hopes to grab an early 4G LTE lead with its service, much the way Ford jumped out in front of the pack with its infotainment offering SYNC back in 2007. GM plans to roll the service out to 30 models this year. The 2015 Chevrolet Malibu will be the first 4G LTE-equipped GM vehicle out this summer.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.

Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to Telematics Update.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Data Business for Connected Vehicles Japan 2014 [2] on May 14-15 in Tokyo, Telematics India and South Asia 2014 [3] on May 28-29 in Bangalore, India, Insurance Telematics Canada 2014 [4] on May 28-29 in Toronto, Telematics Update Awards 2014 [5] on June 3 in Novi, Michigan, Telematics Detroit 2014 [6] on June 4-5 in Novi, Michigan, Advanced Automotive Safety USA 2014 [7] on July 8-9 in Novi, Michigan, Insurance Telematics USA 2014 [8] on Sept. 3-4 in Chicago, Telematics Japan 2014 [9] in October in Tokyo and Telematics Munich 2014 [10] on Nov. 10-11 in Munich, Germany.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: Insurance Telematics Report 2014 [11]Connected Fleet Report 2014 [12]The Automotive HMI Report 2013 [13] and Telematics Connectivity Strategies Report 2013 [14]