Marketplace — Telematics

Date: Saturday, April 21, 2007

The accuracy and integration of satellite navigation systems is improving year on year. Steve Banner has been taking a look at the latest developments.

 

Light commercial drivers are having yet another security instruction relentlessly drummed into them. “Don't leave your TomTom in the cab.” Sometime ago thieves discovered that vans as well as cars often contain the cleverly designed portable navigation device. It's proving hugely appealing to lcv operators and has just become even more useful.

TomTom GO 715 

New on the market is the TomTom GO 715, said to be the first unit of its type in the world with an integrated GPRS modem and SIM card.

An extension of the TomTom Work product portfolio, it's available with Webfleet, a web-based tool that allows operators to track their vehicles under the Work Compact banner. They can also send and receive messages.

As well as using it to navigate, drivers also get continuous access to up-to-date traffic information. What's more, GO 715 can be used hands-free via Bluetooth-enabled phones and its memory card contains an up-to-date door-to-door map of Western Europe.

So what's it cost? The subscription is set at from around £1.20 per vehicle per day based on a usage period of 36 months. The unit itself costs approximately £300 — more than the £100 or so you pay for a basic TomTom, but it does of course offer many more facilities.

Keeping Track

Telematics packages with a tracking facility as well as onboard sat nav can prove invaluable and not just because drivers who can find their destination first time round waste less fuel, are less likely to arrive late and can make more deliveries during the course of a working day.

If you run several vans you can see precisely where they all are simply by glancing at a screen in your office. Armed with that information you can divert the nearest one to a particular destination to collect an urgent consignment without having to ring two or three drivers to find out where they are in relation to the collection point.

You can spot when vans have unexpectedly departed from their usual route and make it your business to find out why. Perhaps the vehicle has been stolen or hijacked.

You can let clients know how soon they can expect their loads to turn up. If you don't want to keep ringing them — or have them constantly ringing you — then you can give them a password and they can look at the on-screen data you can see and find out for themselves.

You can keep a check on whether drivers are speeding and tell them to slow down. If they speed they're placing their licence in jeopardy, they're more likely to have accidents and they're going to cost you more in terms of maintenance and fuel bills.

Remote Monitoring

Link sensors to an onboard unit and you can remotely monitor everything from the way a temperature-controlled van's fridge unit is performing to whether the back door has been unexpectedly opened. Maybe the driver has stopped in a quiet lay-by to hand over a couple of boxes of goods to a pal; goods that he'll swear weren't onboard in the first place when he reaches his destination.

Much of the foregoing is likely to prompt drivers to view an onboard telematics unit as little more than a spy in the cab. They should, however, realise that it can bring them several personal benefits; and not just the reassurance that if they are hijacked somebody at home base will know about it pretty quickly and take action.

Benefit in Kind

On 6 April this year the scale charge for the unlimited private use of a van by an employee rocketed from £500 to £3,000. Data gleaned from a telematics system can help drivers who genuinely do not use their vehicle to do the weekly supermarket shop or visit the local leisure centre to prove the truth of their claim to the tax man and save themselves a shed load of money.

So far as their employer is concerned this also means that drivers are less likely to decline to take their vans home because they're frightened of paying more tax says John McMinn, light commercial vehicle national sales manager at fleet management and leasing company ALD Automotive. Simply travelling from home to work and back and stopping to buy some chocolate and a magazine on the way is not classed as private use.

If drivers who have traditionally gone home in their vans decide that they don't want to any more then their owner will have to find somewhere secure to park them overnight. That could cause real difficulties if secure parking space is at a premium.

“It will also impact on the smooth running of the business because drivers will have to travel to their depot to collect their vehicle prior to commencing their first job rather than leaving straight from home,” he says.

ALD markets its own telematics package under the ProFleet2 brand.

Can drivers use telematics evidence to fight a speeding charge? It's worth a try, but overturning speed camera evidence isn't easy and a tough battle in the courts is likely to ensue. It might be necessary, though, if you've already clocked up nine points on your licence.

Congestion Tax   

A telematics system can show whether or not a light commercial is either about to or has just entered the recently extended London congestion tax zone.

CMS's SupaTrak package is used by VTS Tail Lifts to see if a vehicle's route will unavoidably take it into the charging area. VTS will pay the tax before it does so to ensure that no penalty is levied.

Dish out PDAs to the drivers and if you're carrying goods for a third party — parcels for instance — then you can provide the consignor with instant proof of delivery. This can be combined with automated text, e-mail, or voice alerts telling householders that their goods have been despatched and giving them an estimated time of arrival.

Telematics brings a variety of other benefits according to Andrew Crawford, product marketing manager at telematics specialist Minorplanet.

Planning

“You can use both the historic and the live data as planning tools, changing schedules and re-routing vehicles to obtain maximum operational efficiency,” he says. “As a consequence you can achieve fuel savings of anywhere from 20 to 30 per cent.”

The minute-by-minute control operators can exercise over the activities of their drivers through the use of telematics appeals to insurers and at least one of them is offering premium discounts.

The data telematics generates can be used to ensure Working Time Directive compliance and telematics supplier Cybit makes the point that the start and finish times that systems record can be used to generate driver time sheets for payroll purposes. That's got to be better than depending on records scribbled on dog-eared bits of paper.

Fitted as Standard     

One or two light commercial manufacturers are starting to offer sat nav as a standard feature although the trend has yet to gather pace across the industry.

Back in January 2006 Isuzu pick-up importer IM Group decided to include Trafficmaster's Smartnav navigation package in the price of the Rodeo Denver Max SDT double-cab pick-up. It's continuing a policy of standardised sat nav with LE derivatives of that model's successor.

Late last year Citroën began to fit it as standard too on certain models. Smartnav and Trafficmaster's Trackstar stolen vehicle locator are both included in the price of the latest Relay and Dispatch. The screen sits on top of the dashboard and can be unplugged and removed in the interests of security.

The deal includes a free three-year subscription to the navigation service and to Trackstar.

Customers also enjoy free trial use of Trafficmaster's live traffic information service to help calculate routes around delays — we sampled it last year and it's superb — and of Safe Speed, a speed camera alert system. The traffic information is drawn from a nationwide network of sensors and transmitters covering some 8,000 miles of UK motorways and other trunk roads.

Van operators can subsequently buy subscriptions to both services and they're worth thinking about. Traffic congestion spells late deliveries and wasted fuel, and anything that will help you avoid it is to be welcomed. And as for Safe Speed, what price your licence?

Tracker

Trafficmaster is of course by no means the only firm that can locate stolen vans. So can Tracker and its telematics-based VAM (Vehicle Asset Management) package generates all sorts of reports tailored to help operators run their vehicles more efficiently.

Two final points: when you're looking at the cost of sat nav, make sure you know exactly which services you're getting for your money, check that there are no hidden extras and if possible try the system before you buy it.

While most sat nav systems are reasonably accurate, What Van? has known of instances where they have directed a driver to the edge of a sprawling industrial estate, told him he's arrived, then left him to get on with it. Operators of vehicles grossing at above 3.5 tonne will be well aware that satellite navigation doesn't always take into account height and weight restrictions and getting a 7.5-tonner with a tall body stuck under a low railway bridge can ruin your entire day.

VERDICT

What is becoming clear, however, is that whatever level of sat nav and its integration with office and web-based systems is required there is a product out there and the prices are becoming much more reasonable.

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