On the first day of the 2020 Fleet Forward Experience, Tesla outlined its integrations for fleets today, while Heavy Duty Trucking’s Jim Park conversed with Waymo’s Vijaysai Patnaik on the company’s long-term vision for autonomous technology in fleets.
In the afternoon’s concurrent seminars, Nate Veeh of Geotab teamed up with Mark Thomas of Ridecell and Lucas Janetski of the County of San Luis Obispo to reveal how a digital key can automate fleet management. Finally, experts from Discover and Car IQ showed how the vehicle itself can pay for fleet services.
No matter how long the timeline is to autonomy, there won’t be a “flip-the-switch” moment.
While some autonomous technology companies are promising commercial deployments as soon as next year, Waymo remains conservative and won’t share a specific timeline. Waymo’s Vijaysai Patnaik said the landscape won’t go from nothing to fully autonomous trucks everywhere overnight. The industry needs to be guided by an agreed-upon safety framework that does not yet exist, despite the concerted efforts from policymakers, researchers, and autonomous technology companies.
Patnaik also put progress in perspective by comparing a demo to deploying at scale. “Being able to do one fully autonomous drive or demo (is vastly different from) being able to do that repeatedly 24/7, every time, with different loads with variables such as construction and weather conditions,” he said. “If it takes you 10 times the effort to go from R&D to demo, it probably takes another 10 times or even more effort to go from demo to a fully scaled operation.”
How fleets access autonomous services will evolve.
Waymo sees itself as a technology company, not as a trucking or fleet management company. “We'll focus on the technology and leave the other industry stakeholders to do what they do best, whether that's manufacturing trucks or fleet management, maintenance, or operations,” Patnaik said, adding that the goal is to ultimately develop a “driver-as-a-service” model to deploy its technology, Waymo Driver.
In the short term, Waymo will continue to test and develop its technology in both trucks from mainline OEMs as well as its own fleet of trucks, while continuing to partner with fleets and shippers on pilots.
“Let me assure you that a fleet won't have to separately buy a truck and let them figure everything out by themselves,” he said. “Expect Waymo Driver to be seamlessly integrated with a redundant chassis that will be made available to fleets.”
Tesla is serious about the fleet business.
Tesla isn’t avoiding fleet sales; it’s welcoming them. Tesla’s Tia Thurston said the EV manufacturer isn’t trying to specifically limit fleet sales as a percentage of retail (as some OEMs do) and that “bandwidth on fulfilling orders is not currently a concern.”
Tesla has an order-to-delivery time of only four to six weeks. And that’s for large orders, up to a couple thousand vehicles. Tesla is already working with fleet management companies (such as Element) that are financing the vehicles, as Tesla doesn’t have financial services division.
With no dealers, Tesla operates through direct sales, and its single-price model is without incentives. With no dealers, 85% of Tesla’s servicing is done through its mobile maintenance program. Scheduled maintenance is non-existent: “Last year we actually did away with recommended service plans,” Thurston said.
Drivers take delivery of the vehicles at a showroom if convenient. But Henry Kayler, fleet manager of Vestas Wind Systems, has many drivers who live in more rural areas. For him, Tesla sends a flatbed truck to their residences. Training is available via a video displayed through the vehicle’s head unit.
Teslas are changing the TCO equation.
Element is offering Teslas on open-end leases. According to Steve Jastrow of Element, Tesla models don’t yet have enough history in fleet to do a true TCO modeling. However, a perusal of the wholesale market is showing that Teslas are going for “almost the same price as brand new,” Jastrow said. Though “Teslas are holding their values incredibly well,” Jastrow anticipates that values won’t stay that high as more volume hits the market and supply catches up with demand.
Jastrow and Kayler have not yet seen much electric-related maintenance yet on the Tesla models they manage. With little servicing needed, avoiding having to schedule drivers to do preventive maintenance is another savings.
Battery degradation, a potential deal killer for fleets, is proving less an issue. Tesla offers a warranty on the battery of 100,000 to 150,000 miles depending on the trim. Thurston relayed data that averages battery life at 15 years, with some Teslas on the road with more than 400,000 miles.
This has caused fleets to consider elongating their Tesla models’ length in service. Yet as opposed to holding Teslas as long as possible, Kayler said he’ll be watching resale values closely to make sure he can remarket his first round of Teslas at just the right time to maximize their returns.
A digital key not only unlocks vehicle utilization, but also automates fleet management.
Nate Veeh of Geotab, Mark Thomas of Ridecell, and Lucas Janetski of the County of San Luis Obispo explained how a digital key can maximize vehicle utilization, specifically when seamlessly integrated with a telematics system and a sharing reservations system, as is the case with Geotab Keys and Ridecell.
Telematics data can define vehicle utilization down to a science. Fleets from government agencies to delivery operations can run Geotab’s motorpool suitability assessment to understand how many minutes vehicles are being driven per hour of a specific day of the week and how trips can be consolidated to reduce the number of vehicles in the fleet. A digital key solution allows remote hand off the vehicle to other drivers easily.
But the technology can be expanded in creative ways to driver further efficiencies. For instance, a diagnostic trouble code coming off a vehicle that signifies, say, a tire pressure warning, can generate a rule created by the fleet owner. That rule could mandate taking that vehicle out of service and generating an automated message to a service operator. Meanwhile the system could transfer the digital key from the driver to the technician and back again after the service is performed.
This would also facilitate doing department chargebacks by aggregating them into monthly department bills, where overdue payments or an expired license could lead to vehicle immobilization and notices to the driver. “Being able to take and generate these business rules from data types that are associated with the vehicle from multiple sources is a powerful tool,” Thomas said.
Cars have “fingerprints,” which unlocks the ability to turn a car into a wallet.
In the other concurrent seminar, experts from Discover and Car IQ, a payment solution for vehicles and machines, demonstrated how technology is enabling vehicles to autonomously initiate and complete payments for services such as tolls, fuels, and parking.
The concept is based on a new payment process centered around the entity that's transacting and consuming the services — the vehicle. The data inside a car can be correlated in a manner that essentially creates a fingerprint, or an identification, that securely identifies that car.
This new process frees the driver from tracking vehicle expenses while allowing the fleet manager to mitigate fraud and streamline the overall process.
Get rid of the venerable fleet card? Sign me up.
The Fleet Forward Experience Tuesday seminars include a presentation on Ford's electrification progress, a panel discussion between Merchants Fleet's Tom Coffey and three experts from autonomous technology companies Udelv, Kodiak Robotics, and TuSimple, a deep dive into fleet electrification with utility partnerships, and a look at the transformation of maintenance using Big Data.