The Ford Telematics Drive app allows drivers to complete daily vehicle checks through a digital toggle switch that walks through a checklist. - Photo via Ford.

The Ford Telematics Drive app allows drivers to complete daily vehicle checks through a digital toggle switch that walks through a checklist.

Photo via Ford.

For years, the primary method to integrate telematics into fleets has been — and still is today — through costly and time-consuming aftermarket hardware installations. 

Those traditional devices that plug into OBD-II ports (PIDs) not only require some amount of downtime to install, they have high failure rates. “An installer will take a minimum of 30 minutes, and if it fails you have to do it over again,” says Travis Hunt, business development manager, Ford Commercial Solutions.

This process is finally changing.  

At an accelerating pace, manufacturers are partnering with telematics service providers (TSPs) to allow them to use data from OEMs’ factory-installed modems. Meanwhile, manufacturers like Ford are introducing proprietary telematics systems for fleets that use their models. 

In 2017, Ford partnered with Telogis on a Ford-branded telematics system for fleets. Ford has subsequently partnered with other TSPs — including Verizon Connect (which bought Telogis), Spireon, Geotab, Fleet Complete, Samsara, Agilis Systems, and Salesforce Maps — to allow access to data through Ford’s open-platform Transportation Mobility Cloud (TMC). 

TMC is also being accessed by fleet management providers Donlen and ARI for their fleet customers. Built to be OEM-agnostic, Ford will work with other groups and software providers — and even OEMs — as needs and solutions arise. 

This June, Ford introduced its new proprietary platform, aptly named Ford Telematics, which is managed through Ford Commercial Solutions. Today, fleets have a choice to activate either third-party TSP platforms or Ford Telematics with a mouse click through the Ford Fleet Marketplace.   Fleet customers can gain access to the marketplace by contacting Ford Commercial Solutions. 

An OEM telematics solution such as Ford Telematics will only work with that manufacturers’ vehicles. Ford customers with a greater than 50% penetration of other OEMs might consider using their embedded modem with a third-party partner TSP, Hunt says. 

The new web-based software platform and subscription service was developed completely in house. “We took feedback and pain points directly from our commercial customers and fleet advisory boards to build Ford Telematics,” Hunt says. 

In keeping with broader consumer “subscription-everything” trends, Ford Telematics runs month-to-month and fleets can cancel any time. Hunt says pricing is “in line with our competitors.” 

Alerts and Metrics

Fleets derive benefits from telematics in essentially two areas: through real-time monitoring and alerts and by interpreting metrics based on the massive data sets derived from telematics modems. 

For the former, Ford Telematics monitors vehicles with GPS tracking and geofencing with a standard 30-second update, though an alert is sent whenever a telematics event occurs. Alerts can be managed by setting thresholds for speeding and other characteristics.

The author allowed himself to be tracked by Ford telematics during a weeklong test drive of the 2020 Ford Transit Crew Van. During a two-hour drive from Los Angeles to a campground, the system detected one harsh braking event and one idling event. - Screenshot via Chris Brown.

The author allowed himself to be tracked by Ford telematics during a weeklong test drive of the 2020 Ford Transit Crew Van. During a two-hour drive from Los Angeles to a campground, the system detected one harsh braking event and one idling event.

Screenshot via Chris Brown.

The system’s dashboard provides live information at a glance such as geofences, vehicle health status, vehicle utilization, oil life remaining, and other configured parameters. 

The system also monitors seatbelt usage, not just for the driver but for the passenger as well. “Safety is a message we heard often from our customers and the safety of the entire team – not just the driver – is critical,” Hunt says.

In terms of metrics, fleets can gain insights into each driver’s performance by analyzing a variety of driving behaviors, allowing for targeted driver coaching. Fuel consumption can be evaluated next to hard braking and other events, for instance, while fuel levels can be compared to fuel receipts to identify potential fraud. Electric vehicles’ efficiencies can be defined too, Hunt says. 

The system alerts to diagnostic trouble codes with color-coded definitions of severity. In general, fleets can set their own service intervals well in advance to reduce disruption to fleet operations. 

Ford Telematics comes with a mobile app for drivers, Ford Telematics Drive. The app matches drivers to their vehicles and allows drivers to complete daily vehicle checks through a digital toggle switch that walks through a checklist. This could remove the need to file paperwork and allows drivers to relay information that may not be readily available through telematics such as tire conditions or broken mirrors, Hunt says. 

While many of these features are offered on other third-party TSPs’ systems, the combination of Ford Telematics with a factory modem integrated into the vehicles’ architecture allows the system to maximize the depth and breadth of data, Hunt says.  

And Ford isn’t standing pat on feature development. 

Ford can update the modem signals over the air, and if new hardware is needed, “The data arm of Ford Commercial Solutions will work with the vehicle product development team to put a feature in the cycle plan,” he says. 

The Beginning

While this OEM-based integration is an important flag in the sand for Ford, Hunt emphasizes it’s just the beginning. 

All 2020 model-year and newer Ford and Lincoln models have factory installed modems. For Ford vehicles going back to model year 2015, the OEM offers a plug-in modem kit to connect to Ford Telematics.  The kit uses a y-splitter that frees the OBD-II port for other uses.

Certainly, the universe of OEM-sourced modem data will grow as fleets are cycled. “As Ford and other OEs offer more connectivity options, more fleets are requesting use of that modem for various aspects of their businesses,” Hunt says. 

This is just the tip of the data iceberg. “The strategy for Ford telematics will evolve as new vehicles will come out,” Hunt says. 

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