EVs Raise New Challenge for Fleet Optimization: Telematics Hasn’t Caught Up

 -  Image courtesy of Getty Images

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Planning for fleet electrification is sparking extensive conversations about what vehicles to buy, when to buy them, and the holy grail of lowering the total cost of vehicle ownership. Yet most operators likely have not considered another aspect of the EV transition that will directly impact fleet management: the fact that EV telematics cannot yet offer the deep operational, financial and risk management insights that fleet owners have come to expect from existing telematics systems.

The first challenge is that telematics service providers (TSPs) have limited access to critical EV operation and usage metrics because of lagging industry requirements, difficulty in connecting to EVs’ onboard diagnostics, and manufacturers’ proprietary (non-standardized) data protocols. Limited ICE vehicle standards have been driven by governmental emissions requirements, but no emissions for EVs means no governmental mandates. Telematics hardware manufacturers are working to reverse-engineer solutions, but it’s still early in the process given the relatively recent introduction of electric vehicles. It is also an arduous process that requires exceptionally knowledgeable engineers.

The second issue is that TSPs currently must provide separate telematics reports for battery- and gas-powered vehicles because of the material differences in the way they operate. That adds extra time for an already busy fleet manager trying to compare costs and other benchmarks between the two asset types, particularly considering the apples-to-oranges differences in key metrics (fuel consumption and oil life versus battery range and charge rate, for example). It also hampers efforts to ascertain bottom-line performance across the entire fleet.

In the future, TSPs will integrate EV data into the core telematics application so that it appears side by side with metrics on the gas-powered side of the fleet. They also will find ways to convert disparate data sets such as miles per gallon and miles per kilowatt-hour into standardized values for easy analysis of overall fleet costs and utilization. Today, however, neither EV telematics nor telematics for mixed EV and ICE fleets is much beyond the infancy stage of full market productization.

Inadequate EV Data

It goes without saying that traditional metrics on factors such as miles per gallon, fuel usage, idle time, oil changes, fan belts, transmissions, carburetors and emissions are irrelevant in the EV world. But even basic EV telematics parameters such as battery charge and usage are hard to come by, and other vital EV measurements like mileage per battery charge, charging speed, maximum battery charging capacity, battery temperature and vehicle charging status are significantly more challenging even for the strongest engineering teams.

That’s because of a perfect storm of obstacles. First, while all vehicles with internal combustion engines have OBD-II ports through which telematics data and trouble codes are retrieved, most EVs do not conform to the OBD-II standard. Brands like Tesla, for example, have no OBD-II port. Others have a port, but don’t even report VIN in the conventional way. These factors are forcing telematics hardware providers to find new ways to access the Parameter IDs (PIDs) that have provided onboard diagnostics since the dawn of telematics.

Second, gas-powered vehicles are legally required to provide access to a standard set of telematics data, but no such requirement yet exists for EVs. Proprietary PID data varies from EV manufacturer to manufacturer, which further complicates the process of producing actionable information.

Third, EVs don’t have an “ignition” state, which causes major problems for TSPs whose applications are based in part on the ignition status of a vehicle to display accurate trip-related information. While the concept of “on” or “off” does apply to some EVs, it does not map to “ignition.”

One example of how this plays out is in the challenge of measuring the start and stop of an EV trip. The telematics device can still track vehicle movement and location, but without the ability to connect to an ignition system, the device doesn’t know when to start and stop recording data. This means that other methods like current draw need to be used, but this is complicated by snags such as the fact that gear position is not always available, and movement from a stop is not a good indicator because a stop doesn’t always indicate the beginning or end of a trip. Until telematics teams can develop a more definitive approach, fleet managers will run into roadblocks in tasks ranging from determining time on site and non-productive time in the field to tracking EV driver behavior or compliance with hours-of-service regulations.

Mixed Fleet Reporting

Beyond the data dilemma, as noted earlier, the other major bump in today’s telematics road involves the immature reporting process available for mixed fleets. The current practice of providing one report for ICE vehicles and a separate analysis for EVs puts an extra time and resource burden on fleet managers faced with evaluating two sets of data. It also inhibits visibility into big-picture issues such as overall fleet usage, costs and risk mitigation opportunities that are essential to fleet optimization.

These concerns will be resolved with new reporting schemes as the industry adjusts to the mixed ICE/EV fleet reality. Dashboards and details from both sides of the fleet will be available in the same interface, along with new metrics that merge the two data sets into a common scale in order to illuminate trends and enable better business decisions for the fleet as a whole.

One example might be a new way of calculating cost per mile that takes into account variables such as the cost of refueling a car versus the cost of charging an EV, including whether the charging takes place at the office after hours or on the road at premium prices. Another might be a new efficiency metric that considers both the cost of engine idle time on the ICE side and driver stop time on the EV side. A third might be a different approach to measuring risky driving based on the fact that EVs have faster acceleration than ICE vehicles.

The precise methodology and specific metrics will vary from TSP to TSP, which raises an important point as operators jump on the EV bandwagon. How is your telematics service provider preparing to address the new EV data and mixed-fleet reporting challenges?

Questions to Ask Your TSP

As you add EVs to your vehicle lineup, purchasing the right telematics solution will give you critical insights that can help you operate at peak capacity, safety and profitability. Here are some issues to address with your TSP that will help you make the right choice.

  • What EV models do you support? Is your provider able to supply metrics for the specific EVs in your fleet, whether it’s an SUV like a Hyundai Kona Electric, an eLDV like a Ford E-Transit, or an eHDV like a Freightliner eCascadia?
  • What key performance and driving behavior metrics do you currently provide for EVs? Fuel efficiency (the amount of energy consumed per mile)? Range? Charging time? Battery health? Harsh braking? Rapid acceleration? Other?
  • Assuming you are currently providing separate EV and ICE reports, what are your plans to change that? When and how will you consolidate the two reports so that we can view information on both parts of our fleet more efficiently?
  • Have you begun to rationalize EV and ICE data? How are you or will you do it? Can you give me some examples? For instance, how are you going to normalize miles per gallon versus miles per kilowatt hour to provide an indicator of overall fuel efficiency?
  • Do your algorithms take into account some of the unique attributes of EV operation?  For example, do your route optimization algorithms address the difference between charging locations and refueling locations? Do your range algorithms consider environmental factors such as temperature and altitude as well as driver behavior, which have an impact on range?

Telematics has been a cornerstone of fleet optimization since the first systems hit the market more than two decades ago. It will necessarily evolve with fleet electrification, but it will remain an essential tool for fleet management. Partnering with a TSP that is on the cutting edge of EV telematics is a critical step for ensuring the economic viability of your fleet as you join the electric vehicle revolution.

Joel Young is Chief Technologist at Sensata INSIGHTS, a global business unit of Sensata Technologies that provides end-to-end IoT fleet management solutions spanning the entire supply chain including telematics, video telematics and connected trailers.

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