Navistar Taps Telematics to Gain Intelligence on Truck Rivals

December 17, 2019 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

Navistar International Corp. uses its OnCommand Connection digital fleet-management tool to gain critical business intelligence about the performance of rival truck companies.

The owner of the International truck brand is using the telematics program to learn when one of its trucks or a connected vehicle built by a competitor pulls into a service bay and departs.

Navistar knows how long the repair takes. It can pull information about fuel economy, the number of hard-braking stops and granular details such as the temperature of the exhaust gases leaving the truck and the condition of the motor oil.

“We get thousands of data points every month. I can tell you which are the best performing dealerships for the competition. We know the most frequent fault codes of the competition’s vehicles,” said Chintan Sopariwala, vice president for Navistar’s connected vehicles business.

BENCHMARKING METRICS

The company uses the information to benchmark key performance metrics such as fuel economy, types of breakdowns and speed of repair against brands including market leader Freightliner as well as Peterbilt, Kenworth, Mack and Volvo trucks.

It can also use the information in sales pitches, directly comparing various models of International trucks against competitor vehicles for fuel economy, reliability and other metrics.

Navistar can’t see into every truck. It is gathering the data from the more than 400,000 trucks operating in the U.S. and Canada that are connected to OnCommand. Only a third of those vehicles are Navistar’s International trucks. That leaves a large population of rival brand vehicles Navistar can tap for business intelligence.

Navistar Class 8 truck

Navistar can collect information such as gas mileage and when a truck enters and exits a repair facility. (Photo: Navistar)

It gains access to competitor’s vehicles by offering OnCommand to motor carriers that have different brands of trucks in their fleets.

Navistar pitches the service as a way to get all of the data they need from their trucks on one telematics platform.

“You can manage your entire fleet regardless of the manufacturer of the trucks,” Sopariwala said.

TELEMATICS’ BENEFITS

Fleets use telematics for remote diagnostics, learning whether a truck can drive to the nearest service center or should pull off the road. They also use the systems to keep track of their vehicles, analyze fuel-economy measurement and review driver behavior. Most motor carriers have blended fleets of trucks with different models from several manufacturers.

Navistar has almost 14 percent of the market for new truck sales in the heaviest Class 8 segment. That’s up more than a full percentage point of share from last year. It trails Freightliner and is about even with the Peterbilt and Kenworth brands.

A typical medium-size motor carrier might have 1,000 trucks with 200 to 300 from Navistar, Sopariwala said.

The Lisle, Ill., truck maker can cull the information because of the way it built OnCommand, Sopariwala said.

While all of its competitors have connectivity programs that allow fleets and independent drivers to gain similar information about their trucks, Navistar built its system with an open architecture.

“That means we are integrated with 24-plus telematics service providers for inbound data. This puts us at a unique advantage because no other manufacturer can talk about all makes,” Sopariwala said.

CLOSED ARCHITECTURE

Other companies such as Volvo Trucks use a closed architecture that blocks third parties from creating telematics programs that can peer deep into its vehicles’ inner workings.

Ash Makki, Volvo Trucks North America’s product marketing manager, said closed systems are more secure. They also protect proprietary data.

“Volvo owns our engines and transmissions. They are propriety components that we engineer, design and control all the data into it. We are very protective of the data,” Makki said.

Navistar headquarters Lisle, Ill.

Navistar, based in Lisle, Ill., can collect information from myriad makes of trucks because of the way it designed its OnCommand Connection data-collection system. (Photo: Navistar)

While Volvo works with some third-party telematics companies, the manufacturer believes it has a strong enough service to satisfy the needs of its fleet customers, he said. Volvo has about 200,000 connected trucks in North America.

“You don’t know what that telematics provider’s measure of data security is. They tell you they have a high standard. But when you control your own data, you know the firewall you have in place,” Makki said.

Volvo, however, will allow third parties to collect some information. That includes anything garnered by the standard J1939 data bus that plugs into all cars and trucks. It gathers information about speed, fuel economy and hard-braking events. But it won’t provide information about something complex, such as a failing cylinder, Makki said.

ENOUGH TO WORK WITH

But all truck builders publish fault code information on J1939 that adheres to an industry. That’s enough for Navistar to work with. The company can discern even more information by pairing that data with a massive geo-fencing project. It has more than 7,000 service locations geofenced. The system gives Navistar information about when a truck pulls into a maintenance facility. It can see where the truck parks and when it moves from one area of the location to another. That provides data about time in service bays and total repair time.

Downtime is the bane of the trucking industry. It leaves expensive vehicles idle and out of productive use. Manufacturers continuously talk about “uptime” or operational time because that is the revenue-producing portion of the vehicle’s life cycle. By looking into time to service and repair trucks, Navistar can see if it is providing better customer service than its rivals.

“We have been collecting data for over two years now. For the last six months Navistar is undisputedly leading the industry when it comes to 24-hour turnaround time,” Sopariwala said.

Creating an open architecture system requires considerable maintenance and security investments, but that is what Navistar customers want, he said.

Navistar Class 8 truck

Navistar can’t collect data on every truck on the road, but it can see into about 400,000 of them operating in the U.S. and Canada. (Photo: Navistar)

STRATEGIC APPROACH

Navistar’s approach is strategic, said Lynn Buck, senior market analyst at MacKay and Co., a trucking industry consulting firm.

“It surprised me that no other manufacturer followed that open-architecture path,” Buck said.

Buck said there are myriad applications for what Navistar does with the data. And since it is providing a service to the fleets, it’s not likely to get complaints about who owns the data. That’s different from other equipment industries, he said. Farmers, for example, are battling farm equipment companies over the ownership of data from connected tractors.

“The data is invaluable,” Buck said. He cited a hypothetical example of Navistar potentially tracking a specific Freightliner truck and engine configuration and learning that it achieves about 8 mpg.

“Navistar can say, ‘Let’s shoot for 8.5 mpg in its competitive configurations.’ Small increments like that in miles per gallon can have a big financial impact,” Buck said. “The potential to use this data is crazy.”

Jerry Hirsch February 26, 2018
Using new trucks and a new management team, former GM President Troy Clarke steers Navistar International Corp. from the brink of bankruptcy.

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