19th December 2018

Shell’s Future of Fleet Report illustrates the exciting road ahead – with a key role for telematics

With influences ranging from the race to electrify and automate vehicles from small cars to trucks, and the simultaneous focus on adopting alternative fuels, to the proliferation of ‘big data’ and connectivity along with technologies such as on-demand transportation apps potentially changing the landscape like never before, the future of fleet is unarguably exciting.

The report1 from Shell entitled ‘ultra-efficiency or digital disruption?’ sets out to evaluate which influence is likely to have the most significant impact on fleets now and into the future, and asserts that ‘The fleet industry could transform almost beyond recognition’ by 2040.

Poised for significant change

Technological, legislative and other developments come thick and fast in today’s world, so it’s encouraging that 60% of the 750 fleet managers across Europe that Shell surveyed say that they are able to stay informed relatively well, while 75% work for organisations that are open to exploring new technologies.

Autonomous vehicles are many years away from legally being used on UK, European, American and other roads with any ubiquity, but Shell’s view that fleet management will become dependent increasingly rapidly on successfully balancing a mix of fuel types alongside disruptive technologies and services such as over-the-air software updates and ride-sharing is unarguably valid. “Evolution and revolution alike”, as the report describes fleet management of today and tomorrow, is a good way of putting it.

Slow and steady success

Amidst the rise to embrace diverse and primarily renewable energy sources, the report is right to identify planned, phased-in adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles as the most optimal route for many fleets, compared to rapidly necessitated whole-fleet transition, which would undisputedly prove costly and disruptive. Trak Global Group and Appy Fleet’s own observations confirm that an ordered, gradual introduction of different fuels, vehicles and services is often the most effective for reasons ranging from the financial to business continuity.

Shell’s report’s comment that “The businesses that start future-proofing their fleets now will be able to integrate new technologies faster than their rivals” seems entirely reasonable, and the continuing trend that UK fleet managers on average lease their vehicles for three years or less places them in a good position to provide their drivers with the latest safety, infotainment and efficiency technologies as they become available on various models.

Engaging the input of external fleet consultants is identified as an approach that 34% of the managers surveyed would welcome, with Business Car magazine2 having reported that 32 hours per month are spent merely on routine fleet administration tasks, in a role that is often prone to feeling stretched.

Fleet drivers needn’t necessarily be concerned about the introduction of new technologies, as Shell’s Global General Manager Parminder Kohli explained: “there are positive points about how technology can make their lives easier, safer and less stressful. For example, smarter route planning and warehousing could lead to shorter, less intense periods of driving.” Taking inspiration from gadgets that have disrupted the fitness arena, the report describes how wearables could be used to monitor driver stress and fatigue, ultimately for their safety.

Larger commercial fleets

Identifying that heavy commercial EVs certainly have a long way still to go, the report cites a 2017 study in the American Chemical Society’s ‘Energy Letters’ publication which calculated that a ‘class 8’ truck would require a battery weighing more than the vehicle’s payload capacity in order to cover a 600-mile journey, which most current HGVs take in their stride.

Demand-matching is a fascinating development in the fleet world whereby, through organisations such as Full Truck Alliance in China for example3, independent truck-drivers and other operators can bid for customers’ transportation requirements, fulfilling journeys on behalf of their service-users. With the power of smartphone apps, the company is aiming to reinvigorate and simplify a market that is currently considerably fragmented.

Such an Uber-style approach to commercial fleets could have a sizeable impact on last-mile deliveries in particular, with autonomous vehicles eventually deployed – a facet Full Truck Alliance is keen to develop without delay, pitching its offering against Uber Freight, which also matches deliveries with drivers. 

Fascinating motoring technologies mooted

While Shell’s report excitingly describes road markings being trialled with photo-luminising powder that glows at night and can even display patterns warning drivers of various weather and surface conditions, the item relating to Scalextric-like electrified roads can perhaps be taken with a degree of scepticism, after a recent event by ALD Automotive identified that in-road inductive charging is somewhat disappointingly being met by widespread apathy4.

With new or refined materials such as aluminium, graphene (proudly first isolated at the University of Manchester, on Trak Labs’ doorstep) and carbon-fibre composites being developed, it’s envisaged that vehicles will eventually become self-healing in terms of sustained damage, while servicing and maintenance costs for fleets and private drivers alike will reduce because of advances in robot swarms, 3D printing and other technologies.

Researching such scientific developments a little more widely, the German-owned British brand, Rolls-Royce, is taking inspiration from nature in order to make servicing car engines more efficient, robotic snakes and insects equipped with cameras set to work at inspecting hard-to-reach parts, while IoT-connected sensor robots will be embedded in certain engine positions, and ‘boreblending’ robots will actually undertake physical repairs5.

In Australia, where the car repair industry has been estimated to be worth eight billion dollars according to IBIS data, Industry 4.0 automation is really starting to take hold thanks to companies including Tradiebot Industries, again with a strong emphasis on robotics.6

Shell’s Innovations Manager, Stuart Blyde, fascinatingly believes that in a decade’s time fleets will be working to programmatic infrastructures whereby their vehicles will be configured to bid dynamically for how much electricity they need, how much charge currently remains, what distance needs to be travelled and how many charging points are available nearby.

When it comes to autonomous vehicles themselves, though, findings in Shell’s report identified that equal numbers of the pan-European fleet managers surveyed perceive driverless cars, vans and lorries as a threat and an opportunity, which will likely prove frustrating to governments and the technology’s pioneers.

Telematics’ role in the future of fleet

As a leading global technology business in the fleet sector, it was unsurprising to see telematics cited throughout Shell’s report. As demonstrated through our Appy Fleet and Carrot Insurance businesses, real-time monitoring of vehicles and driver behaviour is having a tangibly positive effect on fleets of varying sizes and compositions, from reduced vehicular wear and tear and fuel bills to increased driver safety.

Parminder Kohli from Shell’s perception that the fleet industry will witness a growing number of collaborations and partnerships, with telematics and logistics specifically highlighted, is certainly logical, the technology’s many benefits well suited to today and tomorrow’s diverse worlds of gig economy drivers and a honeycomb of journeys from long-distance to first-mile and last-mile.

Although mentioned relatively briefly in Shell’s report, telematics technology is conveyed as an integral part of fleet operation today and increasingly so over the coming years, in parallel with big data, cloud connectivity, ever more capable fuel card and payment systems and other technologies, not forgetting advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) on vehicles themselves. Alongside In-Vehicle Monitoring Systems (IVMS) such as drowsiness detection iterations integrated into steering wheels and rear-view mirrors, telematics is set to play an ever-expanding role in efficient, cost-effective and, most importantly, safe fleet operation.

Shell’s report concludes by stating that “To win in tomorrow’s market, you need to start preparing for the future today”, which certainly sounds like a successful ethos for fleet managers to adhere to.

 

Sources:
1. https://www.shell.com/content/dam/royaldutchshell/documents/business-function/commercial-fleet/corporate/shell-future-of-fleet-final-report.pdf
2. http://www.businesscar.co.uk/news/2017/sme-fleet-managers-spend-32-hours-a-month-on-fleet-admin,-says-allstar
3. https://www.scmp.com/tech/venture-capital/article/2169804/chinas-uber-trucks-close-securing-us1-billion-funding-round
4. https://www.vehicleconsulting.com/clean-air-zones-cities-fleet-management-leasing-craig-davy/
5. https://www.zdnet.com/article/meet-the-snake-and-bug-robots-that-will-repair-your-cars-engine/
6. https://tradiebot.com/2018/07/14/how-robotics-is-transforming-the-auto-repair-industry/