Telematics Gets a Warm Reception from UK Fleets

By Mike Sheldrick, Senior Edi­tor

“You ain’t seen noth­in’ yet!”

Buz­zFeed recent­ly ran a cute item: “12 Car Advances That Would’ve Freaked Out Peo­ple in the Eighties.”That might be an exag­ger­a­tion. But astound­ed and amazed would not.

I remem­ber show­ing Dave Cole, head of the Cen­ter for Auto­mo­tive Research at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, an Etak nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem in late ’80s. It includ­ed map data and restau­rants for Detroit and Ann Arbor. This was pre-GPS, by the way. “That’s amaz­ing,” he said, as we found a restau­rant (by cui­sine) and quick­ly cal­cu­lat­ed a route. As a hard-nosed engi­neer and the son of Ed Cole, a for­mer GM pres­i­dent, he was a man not eas­i­ly impressed. Full dis­clo­sure: a Sil­i­con Graph­ics work­sta­tion was in the trunk. It was ear­ly days for nav­i­ga­tion. So ear­ly that the neol­o­gism, telem­at­ics, had not even been invent­ed.

Now that telem­at­ics has switched into over­drive, it’s not so hard to imag­ine that many of us will be freaked out in just a few years. In oth­er words, “You ain’t seen noth­in’ yet.”

It’s easy to draw that con­clu­sion from a recent Fleet Tech­nol­o­gy White Paper and Sur­vey pub­lished by the British Rental and Vehi­cle Leas­ing Asso­ci­a­tion.

Com­ment­ing on the sur­vey, BVRLA chief exec­u­tive Ger­ry Keaney said, “[It]… shows that the auto­mo­tive envi­ron­ment is set to be trans­formed by tech­nol­o­gy over the next few years. Our find­ings sug­gest that some of the things that used to dri­ve vehi­cle choice – such as dri­ving per­for­mance, com­fort and design — are rapid­ly becom­ing less impor­tant as fleets focus on tech­nol­o­gy and safe­ty.”

Fleets sur­veyed high­light­ed that dri­ver­less cars and alter­na­tive­ly-pow­ered vehi­cles are the tech­nolo­gies that have the poten­tial to have the great­est pos­i­tive impact on the indus­try. Fatigue warn­ing devices were cit­ed as the most impor­tant safe­ty tech­nolo­gies for fleets, while futur­is­tic fea­tures such as night-vision cam­eras were among the least impor­tant for fleets.
Keaney added: “Whether it’s safe­ty func­tions such as autonomous emer­gency brak­ing, or fleet man­age­ment fea­tures such as telem­at­ics, the rental and leas­ing sec­tor is well aware of the poten­tial of devel­op­ments in auto­mo­tive tech­nol­o­gy. The BVRLA’s role is to ensure that reg­u­la­tion and the government’s motor­ing agen­cies keep pace with these devel­op­ments, so the fleet indus­try can con­tin­ue to inno­vate.”

Man­u­fac­tur­ers pay more atten­tion to the inter­ests of fleets in Europe than in the U.S. because con­sid­er­ably more cars are pur­chased by fleets there. In the UK, fleets account for more than 50% of car sales. More­over, the British gov­ern­ment is behind dri­ver­less cars.

BVRLA’s White Paper points out that while “there has been a huge amount of pub­lic­i­ty around Google’s dri­ver­less cars,” actu­al activ­i­ty is under­way in the UK.

The Chan­cel­lor of Exchequer’s Autumn 2013 state­ment announced a £10 mil­lion prize fund “for a town or city to devel­op as a test site for con­sumer test­ing of dri­ver­less cars.” A Low Car­bon Urban Trans­port Zone project in Mil­ton Keynes plans two-seat dri­ver­less “pods” to be test­ed next year, with 100 of them planned for street use by 2017.

The com­plete Fleet Tech­nol­o­gy White Paper pro­vides an excel­lent overview of present and future devel­op­ments. Con­tents include:

  • Autonomous dri­ving
  • Safe­ty
  • Big data: Who owns it and its uses by fleets
  • Con­nec­tiv­i­ty, includ­ing embed­ded and safe­ly inte­grat­ed smart­phone apps.
  • Com­pre­hen­sive list­ing of appli­ca­tions — at least those that occur to us now.
  • Telem­at­ics and fleet man­age­ment.
  • Gov­ern­ment pol­i­cy

This is not the stuff of idle day­dreams. The sur­vey found that more than 60% of fleet man­agers believe that con­nec­tiv­i­ty and smart­phone inte­gra­tion will be very impor­tant in influ­enc­ing dri­ver choice with­in five years — three times the num­ber who believe it is now. All this is of great inter­est to the White’s Papers co-spon­sors: BMW, Dri­ve Soft­ware, and rak Glob­al Solu­tions.

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