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Data is the high-octane fuel powering the fleets of the future

Philip van der Wilt Profile picture for user Philip van der Wilt Samsara May 1, 2024
Summary:
As the use of electric vehicles grows, so does the need for data on performance. Philip van der Wilt of Samsara shares real world examples of how fleet companies have used data to fuel their success.

Road To The Future. Truck transportation © Filograph - Canva.com
(© Filograph - Canva.com)

There are calls for the labelling system for electric vehicles (EVs) — used by manufacturers to say how many miles an electric van, for example, can cover before it needs to be recharged — to be revised to take into account real-world conditions.

It comes as the Association of Fleet Professionals (AFP) has warned that over the winter months, some vehicles only covered half the distance between charges when fully loaded and operating in cold conditions.

Speaking in February, Paul Hollick, Chair of the AFP, said: 

We’ve had reports during the last few weeks of operators of electric vans with an [advertised] range of 200 miles seeing that number halve with a full load in cold conditions.

That’s a reduction that is extremely difficult for fleet managers to work their way around in operational terms.

He argued that the labelling for EVs needed to be expanded to include different working temperatures and whether a vehicle is fully loaded or not:

Ultimately, having an accurate idea of how electric vans will perform in real-world conditions is critical to their adoption. Fleet managers can’t make buying decisions without having a good indication of range. Instead, they are coming into work on cold mornings and finding that the routes they had planned are unviable, sometimes creating huge difficulties.

Multi-fuel fleets are becoming the norm

It’s a fair point. And yet another teething problem for operators of EVs to work out as they look to decarbonize their fleets. Not only does that involve getting the right vehicle for the right job, but fleet managers also have to factor in time to recharge vehicles or risk getting stranded. In an ideal situation, charging an EV would also coincide with a driver’s mandated break. But getting the two to marry up — especially when faced with a tight delivery schedule — may not always be easy.

But it’s not all negative. As Hollick rightly points out, there are plenty of fleets and businesses operating electric vans without any issue because their operational needs — which may require lighter loads on local routes — are less demanding.

Take JJX Logistics, for example, a company based in the West Midlands specializing in the transportation of dangerous loads such as batteries and toxic substances, as well as high-value items.

This award-winning business — singled out for its commitment to the safety, regulatory compliance and security of its supply chain solutions — made its first transition to EVs in August 2023 with the addition of its first fully electric Sprinter van for final-mile deliveries in the Black Country.

For JJX, ensuring the electric van is plugged into a data platform is critical to its day-to-day operational success. The data gathered helps to inform the business about range, payload, charging and other aspects of operations.

Edward Martin, Head of Fleet Compliance at JJX, said:

That reassurance is vitally important for our transport and operations team.

The data is worth its weight in gold. We hoped that it would support us in operating without hitches and it has.

Data-driven insights provide a roadmap to success

All of which underlines the importance of data — which includes everything from efficient route planning and accurate operational range to automated vehicle maintenance alerts and scheduling — in running a modern fleet. Crucially, being able to tap into real-time data — based on live events in current conditions — means fleet managers don’t have to rely on a labelling system to figure out if a vehicle is up to the job.

While Martin and his team are using data to maximize the efficiency of their electric van, they’re also using the same platform to operate the rest of the diesel and petrol-powered fleet.

For instance, by using the data to eliminate unnecessary engine idling and improve driver behavior, JJX not only saved fuel and money, it also saw a near-17% drop in vehicle emissions in the first three months of rolling out the technology. And all of that progress is down to data. Martin said: 

If we can’t monitor our impact, we can’t change it. Understanding our footprint, entirely through telematics and tracking in the technology is making a big difference.

And the benefits don’t stop there, he added:

We’re not afraid to tell our customers we are able to operate at a high level of service because of the value the technology adds to our operations. The real-time tracking, transparency and efficiency we can now achieve is part of our credibility as a business.

Data is driving digital transformation in physical operations 

That’s why the digital transformation currently sweeping through physical operations is so important. It’s much more than simple telematics. Data-driven insights can improve fuel efficiency, reduce engine idling and improve eco-driving behavior. Crucially, a data platform that links an entire operation is also fuel-agnostic with full operational oversight of a multi-fuel fleet.

Gone are the days when a day’s schedule was worked out on a piece of paper and posted on a canteen noticeboard. Today’s fleets are increasingly turning to data platforms enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT) to connect their physical assets and vehicles to the cloud.

This connectivity — providing a constant supply of real-time data — means fleet managers are no longer working in the dark. Being able to see their entire fleet on a single screen, they have access to the most up-to-date information available about the whereabouts and health of their fleets.

Forget fleets being fueled by petrol, diesel or electricity. Today’s fleets are increasingly powered by data.

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