The phrase ‘connected vehicles’ is bandied about too often, usually by people telling you all the wonderful things you could do with the data, without much substance. 

That has not changed, but the number of vans with built-in telematics has. According to e-commerce specialist Epyx, the percentage of connected new internal combustion-engined vehicles registered on its 1Link platform – of which there are more than four million – rose from 62% in 2020 to 76% in 2022, while the number of EVs pumping out data increased from 94% to 97% in the same period. 

It begs two questions: whether you can get hold of the data, and if you can, what you can do with it. Some manufacturers are notoriously cagey about handing it over, often for commercial reasons or because they don’t really know what to do with it, less still how to serve it up in a useful format. Others have the jitters about a potential breach; last year former head of RAC Telematics, Nick Walker, told What Van? that “every vehicle manufacturer is scared of the next emissions scandal, which could be a data scandal”.

Certain manufacturers are coming round to the idea of sharing it, though, as Matt Waller, director of connected car at Epyx’s parent company, Fleetcor explains. 

“There are circa 1.2 million OEM telematics-capable vehicles on our [1Link] platform today. Of the OEMs that I know who are actively sharing data today, there are probably 600,000 of those [vehicles].

“That is rapidly, rapidly increasing. I would expect that to at least double in the next two years [because] there a lot of sizeable shifts within the connected space that are forcing OEMs to open up.” 

According to Epyx, there are two reasons behind the willingness to make data more accessible. The first is that supply shortages mean OEMs are making less money, so they are looking for new revenue sources. Commercialisation of data is potentially one of them and some are said to be investing accordingly.  

The second is demand. Fleets are very keen on data-driven services, and manufacturers that stick with the lock-and-key approach could find themselves at a disadvantage, as end-users gravitate towards those with a more liberal outlook.  

“This has prompted significant demand for data from manufacturers, especially in cases where aftermarket telematics options come with significant hurdles in terms of both price and complexity,” the company told What Van? via email, “in our view, it’s likely that availability of connected data will become a factor in vehicle choice in the future.”

There is a lot you can do with all that data, and Epyx is currently trialling a “connected vehicle solution” with several fleets, with plans for a finished product by the end of the year. The company also reckons there is potential to employ the increasing amount of big data from vehicles across multiple areas of fleet management. 

Waller believes data could be monitored throughout a vehicle’s time on a fleet to effectively provide a live service history, with intricate detail about condition, which would inform the leasing company, the operator, and the remarketer well ahead of the defleet date. This could shorten and sharpen the handover and sale process. 

“At the minute, there’s quite a lengthy manual process when it comes to giving back [a vehicle, but] actively tackling residual values through a three-year period is a key part of discussions we’re having with the leasing industry. It’s been the focus of at least one of the pilots we have run – understanding what is happening in-life and how it will affect the residual value of the vehicle. And then, knowing that, going with eyes open through the remarketing process so that we don’t need seven cycles to shift the vehicle.”

The limits to the detail a vehicle could provide are allegedly set only by what its telematics system monitors. It could feedback the likes of mileage, service records, whether any warning lights are on, tyre pressures and, if they are low, how long they have been like that – all of which could theoretically date from day it left the production line, with information gathered at no more than 30-second intervals. Fundamentally, the dataset would issue a much clearer picture about the state of the vehicle well before a delivery driver were dispatched to collect it. 

That, in turn, could refine the inspection process. If a leasing company already knows all of the above and more, then an agent shouldn’t have to do much more than a quick visual inspection. Equally, if there were an issue with the vehicle, then the data could inform the leasing company’s logistics arm ahead of time, so instead of checking out the entire van, the delivery driver might be directed to wherever the problem is, rather than discovering it when they turn up. 

Waller also thinks it could help remarketers understand exactly what is required in the way of refurbishment before a vehicle arrives at their site. Tactical refurbs are common among auction companies and other remarketing outfits, who often prepare vehicles to meet condition grades as prescribed by the National Association of Motor Auctions (NAMA). Rather than spending a packet and days on end getting a vehicle absolutely tip top, they typically spend a nominal amount of time and money to increase it from, say, a grade four to a grade three, which they know will attract more value and bids. Again, an advance data feed could allow remarketers to make an early call on refurbishment. 

“We talk about maybe a four to six-week turnaround time,” says Waller, “that’s relatively long, considering the market right now. We could have the vehicle already sold before the bloke even arrives to pick it up. 

“The [driver] needs to spend 10 minutes walking round [the vehicle] rather than half an hour. In theory, he can do a lot more during the day than he would have been able to before, because maybe he’s only doing a quick walk around. He doesn’t need to check the odometer, he doesn’t need to check that the engine is working properly. All of the things that he would normally have to check, we can check remotely. And we can do that a month ahead of time, two weeks ahead of time – however long is deemed necessary.”

Such a service would likely be offered via Epyx’s existing remarketing channel, the 1Link Disposal Network, but Waller thinks it could be broadened to an app-based system for use in the field. 

“That data [could] flow into an app that can be used by guys coming to do the inspection to confirm or double confirm the mechanical status of that vehicle,” he adds. 

The caveat, as Epyx’s own figures show, is that not every new vehicle provides data and, even though the connected vehicle population is rising, it still has to flush through the system to reach defleet/used status. If the current state of play with lead times, contract extensions and used van stock is anything to go by, that will not happen quickly. 

However, the company reckons that, by the middle of the decade, it will be difficult to find a non-connected new van, which should open up opportunities for smart remarketing (we are coining the phrase now) as the decade rolls on. 

Cosmetic surgery: telematics for body damage 

Telematics is developing to the point where it could give operators an early heads up about bodywork damage. According to Waller, data capture is now sufficiently advanced that the insurance industry is already retrieving information about “minor bumps and scrapes,” albeit currently via aftermarket devices rather than factory-fitted systems. 

“[There are] new bits of hardware that are attracted to more surfaces in the car that are going to collect more data points,” he explains. “Today, we might have very limited information about whether the airbag is deployed, or on what side it has been impacted, but the sensors in the vehicle are being updated and we will get much more granular information about what has happened to the vehicle. We can take all of that and build it into a profile of how a particular accident or impact has happened, even to the point where it’s nudging the car in front or kerbing. 

“That will require us to have updated hardware, which is going to be around in the next three to five years. It’s already being used in the insurance world today, but it’s not embedded into the car.”