Drawing some 1,700 fleet industry professionals and offering more than 90 educational sessions, the recent Geotab Connect 2023 Conference was a rousing success, according to many of the increased numbers of fleet managers who attended the event this year.
When asked for their conference evaluation, every fleet manager gave the conference a solid “Thumbs up!” suggesting the event is a potential must-attend industry event for the future, like those produced by NTEA, Work Truck, NAFA and Avalon.
OEMs Describe Future Technology
The opening keynote speaker was Geotab founder Neil Cawse, who spoke in detail about the evolution of telematics from dots on a map technology to an indispensable vehicle-centric, driver-centric and operation-centric fleet management tool.
Following Cawse, Sabina Martin, Geotab, associate VP of product development, described Geotab's roadmap to evolve into an artificial intelligence and AI-enabled and hardware-agnostic platform.
Among the topics these OEM representatives explored was software-defined vehicles that can be updated over the air.
Software downloads to a vehicle will accelerate new product introductions into the fleet market and launch new features such as expansion of assisted driving features.
Intelligent software being developed today for tomorrow's vehicles will have self-learning capabilities to adapt to a driver’s needs — a revolutionary advance in so many respects.
Who Owns Vehicle-Generated Data?
Another interesting conference session at the conference dealt with the right to repair legislation at both the state and federal levels.
The presentation was especially relevant since on February 9, the day following the conference, U.S. Representative Neil Dunn (R-Fla) introduced a bipartisan bill to mandate that vehicle owners and independent repair shops have the same access to the tools and data as automakers and their franchise dealers.
While such legislation addresses access to vehicle data, at the heart of the discussion is who owns vehicle-generated data.
The question of who owns vehicle data will profoundly impact the future direction of the automotive repair industry and, by default, the fleet management and maintenance industries.
This issue has been emerging for several years. At a conference years ago, Bob White, president of fleet and mobility at Holman, gave a keynote address. At the conclusion of his presentation, he was asked his opinion on how the question, “Who owns the vehicle data?” would be resolved.
White said he didn't know how it would be resolved but was confident the issue would be settled in the courts.
The vehicle data ownership question — with its far-reaching consequences — encompasses diametrically opposite viewpoints. An entire plausible scenario would see the issue ultimately percolating all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final deliberation.
Massachusetts Passes Right-to-Repair
Currently, only the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has passed right-to-repair legislation: in 2013 and later in the 2020 general election. More than 70% of the Massachusetts voters approved expanding the state's existing right-to-repair law.
The 2020 measure, known as the Data Access law, automakers who sell vehicles with telematics systems in Massachusetts are required to equip them with a standardized, open-access data system.
An open-access data system has yet to be developed. However, when it becomes available, vehicle owners would have wireless access to real time digital data from their vehicles’ telematics system.
Vehicle owners includes fleets, fleet management companies, participants in national account fleet programs and independent repair shops. All could access the same data available to OEMs and their franchise dealers. A first!
The Massachusetts law is currently being litigated following a lawsuit by the Alliance of Automotive Innovation, the world’s largest consortium of automotive manufacturers.
One reason for the lawsuit, which advocates a more restrictive approach to vehicle data access, is the valid concern of cybersecurity.
According to the lawsuit, an open-access system would increase the risk of criminals gaining access to crucial software controlling an automobile’s critical functions. With access, these criminals can create malicious hacks.
Auto manufacturers who filed the lawsuit argue that the Massachusetts law makes it extremely difficult to secure digital data from these hackers, who potentially would have open access to the system. In addition, scofflaws could easily disconnect functions they didn't like, such as the vehicle emission control system.
Other reasons cited in the lawsuit include risks to vehicle safety, unrealistic compliance requirements and unrealistic deadlines mandated to OEMs.
However, automotive OEMs see a new business model emerging that will allow them to monetize data generated by connected vehicles. Harvesting this vehicle data promises to be a major revenue channel; the research company McKinsey sees monetization of vehicle-generated data reaching $450 billion to $750 billion globally by 2030, with major positive ramifications on the types of services and data offered fleet.
For the Future: Look Outside Fleet
What does the future hold? An executive at a major fleet management company once said to understand the future of fleet, don’t look within fleet, but rather look outside of fleet.
In the context of this discussion, what is happening outside fleet that could influence the fleet market in terms of data access?
An interesting area to watch is the smartphone market, where similar right-to-repair lawsuits are occurring.
For example, in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a class action lawsuit that forced mobile phone operators to unlock cell phones. This decision emboldened right-to-repair advocacy groups who pushed the cell phone manufacturers to allow users to perform self-repairs on their phones.
In April of 2022, Apple launched such a program. The company launched a program called “Cell Service Repair,” allowing users to buy parts online for certain iPhones and certain laptops to conduct their own repairs.
Last December, Apple began letting customers in eight European countries repair their own devices. As part of the program, a customer can rent a repair tool kit for about $63, buy individual parts, and receive how-to online repair tutorials from Apple.
Still another example can be found in the agricultural industry. In January, John Deere reversed its longtime self-repair policy conc and signed a memorandum of understanding with the American Farm Bureau Federation allowing farmers the right to repair their equipment rather than forcing them to use an authorized dealer to perform the work.
Again, look outside of fleet to see how fleet might change. The world around us is changing.