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Why GM’s Telematics Announcement is a Really Big Deal

Enabling a telematics connection at the factory — and not through an aftermarket hardware installation — is a game changer for fleets.

There was a time when to receive a fax, you needed to put a phone handset in a cradle, wait for the 14.4k baud modem to connect (remember that sound?), and then watch that slick, curly fax paper spit out of the machine. We put up with the process, because exchanging documents across telephone lines was such a powerful business tool.

When it comes to a powerful business tool to manage fleets, telematics is a similar game changer. But fleets are all too familiar with the time, labor, and cost associated with telematics systems’ in-vehicle hardware installation and removal. Still, they put up with these hassles because the benefits of telematics far outweigh the investment.

Announced earlier this month, a partnership between General Motors and Spireon reveals the new way telematics systems are connecting to vehicles. Spireon will use GM’s OnStar 4G LTE hardware and application program interface (API) to power a customized version of its FleetLocate system. The hardware is no longer installed in the aftermarket — it uses the manufacturer’s existing vehicle technology.

GM fleet customers can now select a telematics system that fits their parameters as easy as selecting vehicle options.

GM first offered a telematics system from the factory when it partnered with Telogis in 2014. With Telogis and now Spireon, as well as GM’s own telematics system — Commercial Link — fleets have flexibility that wasn’t as easy with a hardware installation.

“Aftermarket boxes are a pain for customers, and they’re expensive,” says Ed Peper, U.S. vice president, GM Fleet. “Now there are no hardware or installation costs, or downtime for vehicles. The monthly subscription fee is determined by (the telematics provider) based on features chosen.”

Fleets new to telematics can choose Commercial Link, a more entry-level solution, and then upgrade to more sophisticated, customizable systems offered by Spireon or Telogis. “It’s like a cable TV subscription,” Peper says.

What if fleets want to connect vehicles from a mix of manufacturers? In addition to GM Fleet, Telogis has similar partnerships with Ford, Mack, Hino, Freightliner, Volvo Trucks, and Isuzu, which allows customers of those brands to connect at the factory as well. Fleets using other telematics providers and manufacturers will still require a mix of factory-direct and aftermarket installations.

But this may soon change. The genesis of the Spireon partnership was an enquiry from a GM customer to connect at the factory, says Greg Ross, OnStar’s Business Development and Alliances director, and GM is open to partnering with other telematics providers. “Down the road, if there are other providers that want to partner with us, they’d use the same API’s (as the ones used by Spireon and Telogis),” he says. “We have a flexible piece of hardware that our customers can use with any service solution that they prefer, including building their own.”

Connecting through manufacturers’ hardware and APIs has implications beyond fleet telematics to other connected car uses. Maven, GM’s new mobility platform, also uses the OnStar connection to monitor and access vehicles in the Maven network. “As we recognize opportunities to take additional data off the vehicle, we can create new services through software without having to change the hardware,” Ross says. “So we can innovate and partner with our customers to create new commands and data elements over time.”

In a general sense, an open-source, standardized connection from the factory is a game changer to enable platforms such as carsharing, fleet vehicle pooling, ride hailing, peer-to-peer vehicle sharing, fractional ownership schemes, and more.

Indeed, “connected car” is no longer a catch phrase. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Department of Transportation have submitted a proposal mandating that all new light vehicles be capable of vehicle-to-vehicle (“V2V”) communications as soon as 2020. While the technology that underpins the government’s mandate is slightly different than OnStar, the mandate speaks to a future in which all cars will be connected.

Peper says it’s premature to talk standardizations across the industry until more OEMs have built-in hardware to standardize. Nonetheless, “There’s quite a lot more deployment to come,” he says. “I think we’re just beginning to scratch the surface in how much data we’re getting from vehicles and the services we’re able to create.”

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Author Bio

Chris Brown

Executive Editor

Chris is the executive editor of Business Fleet Magazine and Auto Rental News. He covers all aspects of the fleet world.

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