Technology Talks

More and more technology is being added to vehicles—whether there is a need for it, or not.

June 18, 2013
by David Taylor

From the May 2013 print edition of Fleet Management.

Engineers and technologists the world over look to outdo one another. Innovation is so constant that we have are coming to expect stunning new technology at every turn.
The transportation industry, automotive specifically, is no exception. In fact, it would appear more and more technology is being added to vehicles—whether there is a need for it, or not.

This is not just innovations under the hood, which are likely beneficial, but most of us will never see. No, we’re talking about additional features, some perhaps more invasive than others, and those that are slowly becoming more familiar in our automotive lexicon. For example, from a safety and even productivity angle, most people who spend any time behind the wheel of a vehicle would likely say Bluetooth technology is something they take for granted.

So, does technology have any influence on auto-buying or leasing businesses?
For opinions and answers Fleet Management spoke with Dustin Woods, PR manager for Volvo Cars of Canada; Sandy Di Felice, director of external affairs, Toyota Canada Inc; Tod Sullivan, director of vehicle operations and fleet with Subaru Canada, Inc; Peter Nogalo, marketing manager, ARI Fleet; and, Richard Panneton, national manager, land fleet assets management and programs, Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Fleet Management (Fleet): In your experience, what technologies would show almost immediate benefits to any fleet manager—
regardless of the number of vehicles under management?

Peter Nogalo: With over 800,000 different cars and trucks in our total fleet and with gas prices continuing their relentless climb, fuel costs make up about one-third of a vehicle’s operating costs every year. Our customers look to the manufacturers and us, to assist them in controlling those costs. At ARI, with our proprietary software and relationships with SAP in handling enormous amounts of complex data, we can, with remote sensing technology, give customers information on as many as 125 key metrics, including gas mileage and consumption patterns and whether, for example, a driver is taking the most direct route to their destinations. Saving time translates to lower gas consumption.

Sandy Di Felice: All manufacturers continue to use technology to improve fuel consumption. With better, more fuel-efficient engines and stronger, lighter materials in the vehicles’ construction, Toyota is committed to offer our customers the most fuel-efficient passenger car fleet in Canada. Further, as leaders in hybrid technology, we provide a sustainable technology for the environment.

Richard Panneton: We anticipate actual savings on fuel in the range of 20 to 25 percent thanks to advances made in engine technology by Ford and Chrysler, our typical manufacturers of choice—especially when compared to our former national fleet of Crown Victoria interceptors. Consequently, with fuel costs continuing to rise, the RCMP’s consumption will decrease—as will our carbon footprint. With that in mind, we also really like stop and go technology, too.

Tod Sullivan: All of us (manufacturers) are working toward meeting or even exceeding Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) targets by 2016.

Fleet: For the benefit of our readers, CAFE was a law introduced in the United States in 1975. Globally, most mainstream manufacturers accepted these aggressive standards. The average fuel economy for cars must improve from the current 27.5 mpg (8.55 L/100km), where it has been since 1990, to 37.8 mpg (6.22 L/100km) by 2016.

Sullivan: Subaru has been working with turbos to reduce engine size and the extensive use of Continuous Variable Transmissions (CVT) with infinite gear ratios to maximize performance and fuel economy.

Dustin Woods: At Volvo our vehicles are stronger and also lighter than before and there have been great advances with our engines, too. Technology allows us to develop better normally aspirated engines and turbos resulting in savings at the pump—without the sacrifice of performance.

Fleet: So we pretty much have a consensus. Everyone wants more—for less. But are there other benefits from technology that also have an impact on the bottom line—perhaps in not quite an obvious manner?

Woods: I think that we can all agree that the safer any vehicle is for the driver or any passenger is a money saver. This is an area where technology shines. If one feature in a vehicle reduces the potential of major loss of time from work as the result of an accident, everyone benefits.

Sullivan: We, as a brand, are known for our active and passive safety features. This is now being expanded to our next generation of preventative safety technology and driving assist systems. Our X-Mode when activated, for example, helps the vehicle maintain a constant speed when travelling downhill. The driver’s focus can then be on navigation while leaving braking to the car.

Woods: Similarly, active safety systems like Adaptive Cruise Control, City Safety and Pedestrian Detection can prevent the injury of a company’s valuable employees and also reduce the cost of time off—or the headache of insurance claims.

De Felice: Proven quality, dependability and reliability can now make any fleet vehicle an asset, not a liability. Working in tandem with fleet managers, we can demonstrate the overall benefits of technology and assist in developing safer, stronger vehicles to help
keep a vehicle in any fleet longer, resulting in a higher retained value.

Nogalo: We also plan on expanding our mobility offerings that will augment ARI’s ability to deliver real-time reporting and analytics; putting available technology directly into fleet managers’ hands.

The common threads throughout all discussions were safety and economy. In a paper released in late April by JD Power and Associates, the 2013 US Automotive Emerging Technologies Study, seemed to corroborate some of the actual and even anecdotal points of interest for individual automobile users.

This study measured vehicle owner interest and purchase intent for emerging automotive technologies. Twenty-two technology features were covered in the study, the most prevalent being related to fuel economy and safety. “Vehicle owners…have come to understand the benefits of new automotive technology, they are increasingly interested in those that allow them to manage their fuel consumption with greater efficiency and help better manage their cost at the pump,” said Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of global automotive at JD Power and Associates.

There are opportunities across the board for everyone. Manufacturers continue to design and build more fuel-efficient and safer vehicles. This trend will continue. Beyond that, fleet managers have additional third-party technology available to them to drill down even further to discover supplementary economic benefits.
Is there an appetite for fully or semi-autonomous driving features? Does this originate from the desire to have the latest technology—with the apparent safety benefit being an added bonus?

Will some aspects of technology remove the apparent responsibility from the driver? Do sensors and cameras in a vehicle cause an unnatural reliance on technology? Where does it all end?

Apparently drivers want features and therefore, technology in their cars. They want their vehicles to be like their smartphones. Many manufacturers are eager to oblige. But then there is the possible added distraction of accessing touch-screens while driving.

Ultimately will improved integrated voice command ability rule the day since many jurisdictions have laws regarding distracted driving? That is, in itself, a different discussion for another day.