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Long distance opportunities: telematics

Held annually in Williamsburg, Va., the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference (EUFMC) strives to provide fleet managers with information on the latest technologies available for vehicles and shop operations.

Held annually in Williamsburg, Va., the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference (EUFMC) strives to provide fleet managers with information on the latest technologies available for vehicles and shop operations. This year, the record number of operators of light-duty vehicles and medium-duty trucks in attendance heard about telematics.

To address this subject of increasing interest was Kyle Howard of the sales & account management operation at Navistar Electronics. His  presentation — The Power of Telematics for Fleet Management and Vehicle Productivity — covered the development, operation and perhaps most importantly, the return on investment factors fleet managers should consider when adopting any telematics-based solution.

“The first application of telematics on trucks was driven by the desire for Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) capabilities,” Howard related. “Large, for-hire fleets in particular adopted the technology to answer questions such as, ‘Where’s my truck?’ or ‘What’s my next load?’ and use those answers to improve the productivity and efficiency of their operations.”

Today, there are many pressures on all types of fleets to perform more effectively, Howard continued. In some cases, telematics may offer solutions to these industry wide challenges. 

“Rising fuel prices are affecting all fleets,” he said. “Fuel economy can be improved through changing driver behaviors and telematics provides visibility into those behaviors. Real-time feedback about idling time, speeding, sudden decelerations, excessive braking and other factors that impact fuel economy can assist fleets in addressing those issues. In addition, fleets can improve a driver’s behavior and vehicle fuel economy by using the telematics-based information as the basis for incentive programs.

“Fuel cost management also involves chassis monitoring,” Howard related. “With telematics at their disposal, fleet managers can shut down a vehicle if it is idling longer than a specified amount of time. Fuel economy reports also can indicate the need for preventive maintenance or repairs; monitoring fuel used in PTO mode can lead to fuel tax savings, and fuel level monitoring can reduce theft.”

Fleets are also faced with an increasing number of regulations that affect operations, Howard noted, and telematics can be used to ensure drivers are in compliance and maximize uptime and productivity by more effectively using available hours. These systems, he added, also can help automate administrative tasks typically performed by drivers and other personnel. For instance, telematics-driven solutions can be used to generate electronic driver logs, something that is an option today, but may become mandatory in the future.

Howard also cited growing homeland security and cargo theft concerns as part of the benefit of telematics solutions. “Telematics-driven location information provides real-time visibility to sensitive cargo and equipment,” he said. “With these systems, vehicle location and status can be monitored and an alert can be sent automatically if a vehicle leaves a designated operating area or enters a restricted zone. Door openings can be monitored as well, sending an alert if the vehicle is not at the correct location when it is opened. Monitoring also provides visibility for tools and equipment in the event that  recovery is required.

“Telematics is a complete system solution,” Howard concluded. “The insight and data it provides can address fleet management and vehicle productivity issues.”

Telematics is simple to define. The word itself describes the simultaneous application of information and communication technologies to supply electronic data over a long distance. Its use in fleet operations now seems like a very viable idea, not just in the long run, but for the near-term as well.  
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