The “Oldest Profession” of Vehicle Connectivity: Fleet Management – Geotab

With all the interest and hype around connected cars, it’s well to remember that mobile connectivity for truck fleets has been around for over 25 years. We recently spoke with Colin Sutherland, vice president of sales at Geotab, one of the fleet management telematics industry’s technology and marketing leaders, about the status and outlook for the industry and how fleet management experience might apply to connected cars.

The core current offering of Geotab is its GO device – a small (3”x2”x1”) plug-in to a vehicle’s on-board diagnostic (OBD) system – and the accompanying MyGeotab software system.

Sutherland emphasizes the company’s ceaseless focus on R&D and technology advance, which it believes is a primary differentiator for Geotab in the fleet marketplace. The company has accumulated a strong patent portfolio. He states that their legal expense to support the IP effort “is the company’s second largest expense category behind personnel.”

The GO device is loaded with a library of all of the protocols used by manufacturers within their vehicles. The company updates the firmware every quarter. The device does algorithmic processing of the data it receives, to filter and eliminate noise and false readings. As Geotab states: “the solution provides in-vehicle driver coaching, breakthrough accident detection, ultra-accurate engine diagnostics, route optimization, real-time GPS vehicle tracking, fuel consumption monitoring, and much more.”

Geotab has been growing rapidly and Sutherland sets out ambitious expansion targets. Currently it serves about 430,000 connected vehicles, having added about 100,000 in the first half of 2015. They aim to achieve 1 million subscriber vehicles by 2017.

Even more ambitious and intriguing is their target for 2020 – to serve 80% of the fleet market. Sutherland explains that they estimate the total target market at about 21 million fleets with over five vehicles, of which only about 9 million are currently connected. Of these 9 million, he further estimates that about one-third, or 3 million, are using smartphones rather than telematic devices, such as the GO.

To achieve its goal, Geotab has already begun white labeling its technology to companies including competitors. The identities of current white label customers are highly confidential, but he states that numerous companies among the top 20 in the industry are evaluating using Geotab.

Geotab reinforces its technology positioning with a number of added strategies. These include partnerships with companies that provide vehicle-related information services, which Geotab integrates into its solution set. Partners include: Garmin (GPS devices), Navistar OnCommand Connection (remote diagnostics), Mobileye (visual collision avoidance) and several others.

In addition to its vehicle plug-in offering, Geotab is now offering a mobile device interface to its cloud-based system. Geotab Drive is an app for drivers offered on both the iTunes and Android stores for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. The app connects with the MyGeotab software and the GO device. It provides drivers information such as driver vehicle inspection reporting (DVIR), hours of service (HOS) and driver identification and messaging.

The company is launching an effort to encourage developers to provide new apps that use the, about-to-be-released, Geotab Drive SDK, and have access to Geotab’s organic data from the vehicle. They will also launch a Development Channel on the Geotab website.

Geotab sells their product entirely through distributors. About two-thirds of sales are through either: a) wireless carriers, with Sprint being one of their most prominent sales partners; or b) fleet management and leasing companies.

Regarding the connected car, Sutherland states that Geotab looked at possibilities in the consumer insurance space, but concluded that it would be dominated by smartphone apps and not require in-vehicle connections. He views the connected car as a very broad area in which currently “the data being generated is not good enough and too expensive.”

He believes that the V2V (vehicle to vehicle) and V2I (vehicle to interface) areas will eventually be dominated by one of the major IT companies whose technology will be established as a standard. He feels it likely that these will turn into commodity businesses. Geotab’s interest is to protect their ability to access data from connected cars.

The company, whose founders had roots in South Africa, is now headquartered in Ontario, Canada. It has been self-funded and has not required any outside investment or debt financing. Their business model revolves around pricing their hardware basically at cost and earning their return through provision of ongoing services.

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