Date: Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Improved efficiency, fuel saving, reduced CO2 output and fewer accidents are all possible by utilising the data provided an appropriate telematics package and there is no shortage of systems available as Steve Banner discovered

Fitting a telematics system that can monitor the on-the-road behaviour of drivers may be one of the few ways that van operators can combat the soaring cost of diesel.

That’s because it can check if a driver is speeding, accelerating harshly or allowing the engine to idle unnecessarily and relay the information directly to the vehicle’s owner. He or she can then take steps to ensure that the individual concerned drives more fuel-frugally in future.


Fuel Savings

“Properly used, a telematics package can typically bring about fuel savings in excess of 10 per cent, 20 per cent in some cases, and that of course also means a cut in CO2 output,” says Steve Lovatt, head of sales at Daimler FleetBoard, a pioneer of internet-based telematics services. “It can reduce wear and tear on a van’s components too which means lower maintenance bills.”

It can cut the number of accidents drivers are involved in as well by as much as 30 to 35 per cent, he adds. If you don’t break the speed limit or leave rubber on the tarmac every time you streak away from the traffic lights, you’re less likely to have a smash.

Daimler FleetBoard is owned by Daimler AG, Mercedes-Benz’s parent, but its hardware can be fitted to all makes of van.

“Fleet managers want a lot more from a telematics system than simply being able to trace the whereabouts of their vehicles, important though that is,” agrees Jeremy Gould, sales manager, UK and the Republic of Ireland, at TomTom Work. “They want to be able to use it to promote safety and to cut the firm’s carbon fooprint.” TomTom Work now has 100,000 active subscribers to its telematics platform across the UK and Continental Europe.

DigiCore’s C-track telematics system has helped the Royal Mail cut its annual fuel bill by more than 10 per cent. Harsh braking is down by 70 per cent, speeding by more than 60 per cent, accidents by 20 per cent while driver productivity is up by three per cent.

Significantly, its introduction has been combined with tailored training schedules for drivers that include a mixture of classroom-based and in-vehicle courses.

Getting drivers on your side is vitally important says Lovatt. “They have to buy into what you’re doing,” he says. “If they don’t, then they’ll do everything they can to get round it.”



Boosting driver productivity is one benefit of TomTom’s Work’s Remote Link Working Time device says the company.

Allowing manual time sheets, which are notoriously open to abuse, to be done away with, it enables employees to identify themselves and record when they started and stopped work, or took a break, simply by clicking their ID key on their remote. The information goes straight to the office.

Something else TomTom Work has introduced is the Remote Link Logbook. By clicking a button at the start of each journey, the driver can record it as either a personal or a work-related trip.

Bear in mind that employed van drivers pay more personal tax if they get untrammelled private use of a vehicle and may need to show that they use it for work purposes only.

TomTom Work has also come up with a portable tracking and navigation device that can be switched from van to van. It can be easily installed in, say, a rental vehicle or one operated by a subcontractor.


Live Monitoring

Some systems don’t wait for drivers to return to the depot before their conduct is drawn to their attention. Instead, they alert them, and the boss, immediately.

MiX Telematics, for instance, offers a package that includes a dashboard-mounted so-called RIBAS display. It features five symbols that light up whenever the driver over-Revs, allows the engine to Idle excessively, Brakes or Accelerates harshly or over-Speeds.

“The data is transferred from the unit via GPRS straight to one of our secure servers and can be viewed from anywhere where there’s access to a web browser,” says UK marketing and operations director, Steve Coffin.

A number of firms offer similar systems, including GreenRoad. Prices for the onboard unit can be anywhere from £450 to £850 with monthly per vehicle subscriptions of £10 to £15 thereafter.


Efficiency Drive

Onboard telematics can also improve operational efficiency. If you can see where all your vans are on a screen in your office, and a customer calls with an urgent request, then you can direct the one that’s nearest to their premises to respond. The caller is suitably impressed and you haven’t wasted diesel by re-directing a vehicle that turns out to be many miles away.

Customers can also be told how far away the van with their expected delivery is so that they can prepare for its reception.

As well as allowing you to prove that you are not liable to pay the London congestion tax or a parking ticket because your van wasn’t there at the time thanks to the records it generates, telematics brings security benefits. For example, the use of something called geofencing means that if a vehicle moves outside a designated area at a time when it should be stationery then the owner can be instantly alerted via text or email.

Proof-of-delivery information can be relayed via a telematics system. “We can offer that as part of a logistics package we do that allows you to, for example, scan the bar codes on roll cages as they are loaded or unloaded from a vehicle and send the data to head office,” says Lovatt.


Sat Nav

Telematics systems can include satellite navigation. A growing number of light commercial manufacturers are of course providing sat nav facilities anyway and have tied up with some of the key suppliers. Fiat for, instance, has forged links with TomTom, so have Renault and Vauxhall, while Citroën works closely with Trafficmaster.



The last-named company has just launched a pay-as-you-go sat nav service that’s available on Apple’s iPhone. It’s designed for people who only need sat nav occasionally; van drivers, for instance, who spend most of their time on local delivery work, but have to make the occasional visit to an unfamiliar town some distance away. You can download an initial five routes for just £1.79.

Pay-as-you-go seems increasingly to be flavour of the year — a reflection of the tough economic times perhaps — with Quartix busy setting up a distributor network dedicated to its pay-as-you-go telematics service.



So what will be the next big development? Lovatt suggests that it could be the more widespread introduction of predictive diagnostics. “Your telematics system will be able to tell you if your van is about to break down” he says.


It will be able to do so by, for example, keeping an eye on the oil and tyre pressures and the engine coolant’s temperature. If the readings start to go out of kilter and it looks as though a fault is going to develop, then the driver can be directed to the nearest garage before his vehicle expires.

With vans using environmentally-friendly alternative sources of power likely to become more important over the next few years, Smith Electric Vehicles has come up with a package that can be used to manage electric vans called Smith Telemetry. It tells operators whereabouts each of them are, and their state of charge.

The last thing they want to do is dispatch a battery-powered vehicle on a delivery run only to find it runs out of juice half-way to its destination.

Along the same lines Isotrak has recently developed enhancements to its ATMS (Active Transport Management System) which reduce the risk of electric vehicles running out of charge. It provides an automated remote battery monitoring capability which can alert operators and allow them to manage vehicle routes more effectively before a recharge is necessary.



Thanks to modern communications technology and the internet the telematics and sat nav market is developing at an astonishing pace. And the good news is that its bringing with it many positive efficiency and fuel-saving benefits for van operators.


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