Sean Keywood looks at how van manufacturers are increasingly fitting their own telematics systems – and how third-party providers are responding.
Telematics systems have become an increasingly big part of van fleet management in recent years, allowing companies to monitor their vehicles and drivers and implement management practices that should make them safer and more efficient. Until recently, fleets that wanted to benefit from this had no option but to go to a third-party supplier.
Now, however, an increasing number of van manufacturers are bringing to market their own factory-fit, in-house systems, suggesting the opportunity is there to cut out the middle man. But could fleets really be better off with these rather than tools from third-party specialists?
One manufacturer to enter this market is Mercedes-Benz. It launched its Mercedes Pro Connect system with the latest Sprinter in 2018. Free for three years, it offers features including location and mileage tracking, driving-style monitoring and service scheduling, and is being regularly updated, with the latest additions including remote vehicle access and a digital driver’s log.
According to James Riddington, Mercedes-Benz marketing manager for connected vehicles, an advantage over third-party systems is that where those rely on devices such as a GPS box or a plug-in to the van’s onboard diagnostics (OBD) port, the Mercedes system takes its data directly from the vehicle via 4G, making it more accurate.
He says: “For our driver behaviour system we use a throttle position sensor and brake position sensor. Fuel consumption monitoring is from the fuel sensor in the engine, so it is more accurate.”
Riddington says other advantages of the Mercedes system over third parties include better security, interfacing directly with the vehicle’s alarm system to send alerts to the driver and fleet manager if it’s triggered, allowing remote tracking with GPS if the van is moved, and allowing it to be remotely locked and unlocked.
It also allows direct interfacing with service schedules using data from the vehicle.
However, Riddington does not claim that Pro Connect will be able to replace all the functionality of third-party systems for every fleet.
He says: “[Third parties] have been around for 20-plus years, and some elements they provide are highly bespoke. We can provide a solution where a customer can build a bespoke solution, but what we cannot do is tailor the system to do X, Y and Z.
“Third parties do not cost an insignificant amount of money. We are trying to provide a solution that caters for everyone 90% of the time as opposed to maybe paying a significant amount of money for something that does 100% of your requirements.
“If you have requirements that currently can only be catered for by a third party, you should continue to use them. I don’t think anyone in this building would say people don’t need third parties anymore, but what we’re saying is we’re trying to revolutionise the way vehicle data is given to customers.”
To facilitate this, alongside the full Pro Connect management system option Mercedes also offers an API data feed that can interface with fleets’ own systems to meet more bespoke requirements.
This split approach is also being followed by Ford. The UK’s best-selling LCV manufacturer offers the Ford Telematics platform with fleet management dashboard, and also Ford Data Services, which allows the data from vehicles to integrate with an existing user interface.
In addition, Ford offers the app-based FordPass Pro, said to be aimed at small fleets, which provides the driver with everyday information such as fuel level and tyre-pressure monitoring.
Dave Phatak, director of Ford commercial services for Europe, explains: “We know that our fleet customers are not homogenous and we have to provide solutions for many different use cases. For example, the needs of rental operators may be very different from the needs of van drivers within a small fleet or a company car driver within a large fleet.
“For our small-fleet customers we offer app-based solutions which support the driver of the vehicle with everyday information about the health and security of their vehicle and its readiness to support their business (fuel level, tyre pressures etc.).
“For our larger customers we have developed more sophisticated solutions, which are designed to support the needs of a fleet manager who might be operating tens, hundreds or even thousands of vehicles on a remote basis.”
As with Mercedes’ Riddington, Phatak believes it will come down to customers’ specific needs whether the full Telematics or the Data Services package is right for them.
He says: “We believe that our customers should make that choice based on what is most important to them. By providing the power of choice, we are giving our customers the flexibility to determine what is best for their business.
“The embedded modem that Ford is now fitting at plant across the vehicle range means that this flexibility stays across the vehicle’s life. If a customer wants to switch from Ford Data Services to Ford Telematics or vice-versa, or if a second owner wishes to subscribe to a product, then the embedded Ford modem makes this possible remotely and without any concerns about the cost or time involved with fitting or removing other hardware.”
Phatak says that Ford Telematics has been designed with a primary focus on delivering uptime for fleet customers, and adds: “As the company that engineered the vehicle and leveraging the wider capabilities within the Ford ecosystem, we believe that we can create the best telematics tool that delivers uptime to Ford fleet customers.”