Vehicle tracking picks up speed in sales forecast

Rising gas prices and new software features are making wireless fleet management technology more popular, according to a recent report.

ABI Research Inc. of Oyster Bay, N.Y. has released Fleet Management Systems, which forecasts that by 2013, 14 million vehicles in North America will be equipped with this type of technology. This is up from four million today, representing an annual growth rate of 31 per cent, said David Alexander, ABI’s principal analyst who wrote the report.

“The original application that kind of launched this whole business was simply location tracking and it was just being aware of where the vehicles were and avoiding theft,” he said. “That was the big selling point but as the technologies progressed there’s a lot more information coming back.”

Some of that information includes speed of the vehicle and whether any parts require repairs, Alexander said.

“Drivers are notoriously unreliable at reporting when warning lights are come on. Now the fleet manager gets instant notification real time to check if the engine lights come on or low break warning lights come on.”

He added some systems monitor the speed of the vehicles and whether the driver has braked suddenly.

“This sort of information can be used to counsel the drivers when they get back,” he said. “Some do a red-yellow-green scoring system that gives the fleet managers something that can work with the drivers, and if the driving record doesn’t improve they can actually get rid of the unsafe drivers, which can help them with insurance premiums and can save on repair costs.”

ABI Research does not have Canadian figures, but one wireless expert thinks the technology is under-utilized on this side of the border.

“I don’t see a huge trend in Ontario with this type of activity, which is unfortunate, because I think it’s a great way to use wireless technology,” said Craig Read, director of the Toronto Wireless User Group (TORWUG).

He added many small companies do not want to make the investment up front, but by optimizing routes, it’s a good way to save gas.

Alexander agreed.

“Fleet managers will be able to plan routes and say ‘I want the quickest route or the shortest route or the one that uses the least fuel,’ and those are not necessarily the same routes. In some cases you might use less fuel if you took a longer route that had less stops or smoother flying traffic.”

He said many people he has talked to have had a return on investment within a year.

But Read, who is also IT manager for wireless vendor M-Trilogix, said for some businesses, it takes a few years to get a return on the initial investment.

“There’s lots of costs involved,” he said. “There’s hardware, there’s the connection costs, you have to connect the units back to a central server,” he said. On top of that, companies wanting to track individual pallets or packages need to buy bar coding and radio-frequency identification tags, and pay someone to train their users and maintain the hardware.

ABI’s report cited several vendors, including Intermec Technologies Corp. of Everett, Wash., which makes GPS and real-time location services.

Other vendors in the industry include Trimble Navigation Ltd. of Sunnyvale, Calif. and Hughes Telematics of Atlanta.

Some of the software associated with wireless fleet management may appeal to managers who want to reduce the distances their company’s vehicles are travelling, Alexander said.

He said larger companies typically have a small fleet in each city. Using fleet management systems they can see how heavily their assets are used and can transfer vehicles between cities instead of buying new vehicles.

Managers can also choose the routes with the least amount of traffic.

“Most of the current systems use road maps to do the scheduling but as we all know travelling downtown is more difficult at eight in the morning than at two in the afternoon or eight in the evening because of traffic.”

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