Rowlands Peters, head of Daimler’s FleetBoard Division, offers insights in to the telematics system’s success in South Africa. Ryan de Smidt reports

Telematics systems have become vital fleet management tools in any logistics operator’s armoury – and Daimler South Africa’s renowned proprietary system, FleetBoard, has earned a reputation for setting benchmarks in the OEM sector of the market.

Headed up by Rowlands Peters, the FleetBoard Division has gone from strength to strength, its focus on driver behaviour, driver training and road safety are as much elements of its success as its ability to help lower a transport operator’s overall cost of running a fleet.

That’s probably one of the reasons why Daimler’s trucks – which include Mercedes-Benz, Freightliner, Western Star and Fuso brands – are among the most popular sellers
in South Africa’s commercial vehicle market; not only do buyers get renowned engineering, they also get in-built telematics tools to help them maximise efficiency with regard to fuel-saving, service scheduling, pre-emptive maintenance and a host of other business-related cost items.

Beginning his career as an apprentice diesel mechanic, Peters has gone through various departments at Mercedes-Benz South Africa to properly prepare him for the job at hand – and he doesn’t mind admitting that knowing exactly how a vehicle operates often comes in handy when problem-solving.

“FleetBoard has been available in South Africa from 2009, which means that we’ve been able gather a fantastic amount of data on trends in the local trucking sector. Moreover, we’ve been making tremendous strides in driver training thanks to our FleetBoard Professional Driver Training initiative,” he says.

At present, the FleetBoard data base shows over 5 000 registered and connected users, many of them ranking among the most prominent of South Africa’s transport operators. Peters explains that one of the attractions of the FleetBoard system – and perhaps a primary reason for its popularity – is an ability to encourage a proactive, economical driving style which in turn reduces vehicle wear and tear and helps to extend service intervals.

“The system is able to drive down costs for transporters not simply by monitoring the health and well-being of the truck, but also by keeping an eye on the dexterity and behavioural patterns of the driver.

“It’s part of our credo at Daimler to ensure that all of our customers should benefit from our products. From the commercial vehicle perspective, FleetBoard offers advantages that can be measured at the bottom line – and that’s what’s vital to all transport operators.”

According to Peters, FleetBoard monitors almost all electronic control units and components in a Daimler product, thanks to its fully compatible CAN bus integration. Moreover, the system is able to wirelessly transmit data from the truck in real-time, meaning that preventative maintenance becomes easier to plan.

“FleetBoard’s key brand pillar is to assist the transporter in maintaining up time and, while we offer 3D mapping, we’re not here to replace aftermarket telematics units that incorporate camera systems, armed response or anti-jamming technology. Essentially, FleetBoard is a business tool that, when applied correctly, ensures that trucks under the Daimler umbrella offer more up time than trucks marketed by any of our competitors,” he says.

He adds that Fleetboard is now making use of a significant new component – aptly called UpTime – which records all fault codes triggered on a vehicle while it is in operation, transmitting the data to a server known as the Telediagnosis Viewer stationed at Daimler’s headquarters near Pretoria.

“Maximising vehicle up time will always remain the most important aspect of successfully running a commercial fleet. With UpTime, FleetBoard’s after- sales support team is given total visibility of customer vehicles, enabling them to offer comprehensive round-the-clock support to keep fleets moving,” he says.

Mercurius Motors, a Daimler dealership based at Polokwane, has been one of the first to implement the system and Japie Brits, dealer principal, says the ease with which customers’ trucks can be tracked and their technical status monitored, has proved invaluable from a customer relations perspective.

“We are able to let transport operators know when, say, when one of their trucks is low on engine oil, or that it needs to have its brakes replaced because the wear limit is approaching.

“UpTime is a proactive system that allows us to fix problems before they become apparent or before they cause other issues. Our customers appreciate the fact that we are able to remedy potential downtime situations before they occur.”

He adds that from a dealership perspective UpTime has proved to be a useful selling tool. “Whenever we take prospective customers through to the UpTime screen and show them the benefits current FleetBoard customers derive from the system, it becomes a sure sale,” he says.

Peters admits that it is often a challenge to convince smaller transport operators to use a telematics solution such as FleetBoard — until the benefits of using the system have been demonstrated.

“What makes FleetBoard’s UpTime advantageous compared with other telematics offerings is that we have remote access to fault codes, which means we can immediately order parts which are required for the repair – there’s no waiting around. In short, FleetBoard UpTime is a perfect answer for those struggling with downtime,” says Peters.