The market for telematics systems is a competitive one, and recent announcements from Telovis and the RAC that they are to work with Ford and Volkswagen, respectively, indicates there will be no let-up in the near future. The key development here appears to be the willingness of vehicle manufacturers to share information, and work together with systems suppliers to ensure drivers of these vehicles are getting the best service, value for money, and performance from their vans.

“The Volkswagen agreement sees the deployment of a service based on our telematics’ system, which reads data from the device, such as diagnostics, vehicle parameters such as the odometer, time to service, and distance to service,” explains Nick Walker, managing director of the RAC’s telematics department. “That data is passed over the platform to a contact centre via a live data feed. The data is then interpreted into useable information by the contact centre – an example being a van that needs a service in a week’s time – and the centre then knows to get in touch with the driver.” Walker says that another benefit of the system is its ability to highlight faults, such as battery that needs changing, or a potentially faulty DPF. In this case, prior warning could prevent breakdowns, and improve fleet uptimes.

“We are working together very closely with Volkswagen on the extraction of data from the vehicles, so it has been tailored from the depth and breadth of the data that can be interpreted,” adds Walker. “Our vans are doing repairs at the side of the road all the time, and therefore gathering a lot of information from every breakdown, so we have millions of records and know what a lot of the fault codes mean. But working with an OEM means we get to know more about these problems, and the data is therefore enriched.”

Right now the RAC system is mainly reactive, but Walker says this will change in the future. “The more data we have, the more proactive we can be. Predictive maintenance is where telematics will ultimately go.”

Many of the features highlighted by Walker are also common in the telematics offering developed between Telogis and Ford, which can be retro-fitted to vehicles darting back to 2010. “In the light duty sector, no other manufacturer with such a large van line-up has unlocked data to this level, shared it with a telematics partner, and made it into a product,” explains Telogis’ European automotive director Paul Reynolds. “What we have is a plug and play approach that requires no splicing, cutting, soldering or any major work in the van. It sounds fundamental, but a lot of fleet managers want a system that is quick – install/removal each take around 30 minutes – and flexible.”

Like the RAC/Volkswagen offering, the Telogis/Ford unit will run on mixed fleets, just as well as Ford products. “In a Ford vehicle you get a lot more information, including how the driver is performing, as well as the vehicle,” adds Reynolds.

As well as the overall vehicle ‘health’ – with specifics such as how much oil is left in the van – the system also allows fleets to monitor how safely the driver is driving.

“As well as being able to send an SMS to warn of an issue and encourage the vehicle to be taken in and serviced, there are other warnings that go above what is available on a standard OBD 2 feed,” says Reynolds. Before now, there was no way of knowing if a driver was wearing a seatbelt, but with out technology, there is a two-second period before you get a warning to say the driver isn’t wearing one.

Meanwhile, well-known names with familiar solutions continue to refine their offerings. The major developments in telematics making life easier, and bringing cost savings,” says Giles Margerison, TomTom’s sales director.

From a cost-saving point of view, he explains that TomTom’s latest version of Optidrive (360) is a combination of solutions that help company and driver be as efficient as possible. “We’ve added advice on when to change gear, and a coasting screen – showing where there are opportunities to coast and lift save fuel. We can also advise a speed to stick to and still get to your destination on time.”

TomTom recently launched the Pro 8 series of devices, which are designed to be integrated with other systems, moving forward from the company’s Webfleet solution. “In terms of making life easier, we realised that Webfleet has some limitations with real-time data out in the field. We’ve always been able to send a job and return updates, but only within our own framework. Now, any other in-vehicle hardware can be linked in, and we can extract and send back any other data, such as temperature and tyre pressure.