GM offers wireless tracking to truck fleet buyers

General Motors Corp. will offer small and midsize truck-fleet buyers a packaged wireless data and fleet-tracking system based on software from Gearworks Inc. and data phones from Nextel Communications Inc.

GM is targeting the one year, no-cash wireless fleet-tracking and data option at service industries that run small fleets of between 15 and 50 vehicles, according to Tim Cavanaugh, marketing product manager for fleet and commercial operations at GM. Cavanaugh said the Etrace xt wireless fleet option, announced Monday, will be available on GMC and Chevrolet pickup trucks and vans, but not on semi trucks.

GM believes the market for the wireless fleet-tracking package is about 4 million vehicles, Cavanaugh said, with plumbing, cable TV, HVAC contractors and courier companies seen as likely purchasers. In January, Cincinnati-based Roto-Rooter Inc. rolled out a wireless data and fleet-tracking system based on Gearworks software and Nextel phones.

Cavanaugh said he expects a “slow start” for the wireless package but anticipates that the program will grow consistently while providing GM with a competitive edge over its rivals.

Scott Hull, vice president of marketing at Minneapolis-based Gearworks, said the GM package is similar to the system used by Roto-Rooter and includes the Nextel phone and the company’s Web-based back-office software.

According to Hull, Gearworks would host GM truck-fleet customer applications on its servers, with access available over the Web. Since the Nextel phone includes a built-in GPS receiver, the software will allow dispatchers to track the location of individual vehicles in the fleet, Hull said. The Java-based Nextel phone, which offers data speeds of between 20kbit and 40kbit/sec, allows dispatchers to send and receive simple text-based messages from workers in the field.

The GM deal is good for a year, Hull said, after which fleet owners can continue the service with a service plan that costs US$34 per phone per month for Gearworks support and $32.99 per phone per month for Nextel data services. Cavanaugh said he expected the “re-up rate to be very high” because fleet customers will have “seen how effective this is in scheduling jobs.”

Ernie Cormier, vice president of business solutions for Reston, Va.-based Nextel, said the cost of the data service could drop, since the 32.99 covers 10MB of data a month and some GM fleet customers might be able to get by with less. While rival wireless carriers have focused much of their data business on either consumers or road warriors, Cormier said Nextel has zeroed in on what he called “the guy in the truck. … Broad growth (in wireless data) will come from that guy in the truck.”

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