Ford Motor Company has beefed up its fleet management software to give customers more information, quickly, on how their vehicles are performing, with a focus on fuel efficiency.
Ford's Crew Chief system now runs on location-based software from telematics company Telogis, allowing customers to track vehicles, receive real-time alerts and analyze driving behaviors that can affect fuel use, safety and vehicle maintenance.
Telematics is the fusion of telecommunications and information technology in vehicles; the latter two are key aspects, along with energy and buildings, of the combination of technologies we've dubbed VERGE.
The Crew Chief system consists of devices that are connected to fleet vehicles and provide real-time location, performance and diagnostic information that can be accessed through a web-based application.
Fleet managers can see where vehicles are, how fast they're going, if they're idling or if they start or stop too fast. Crew Chief also relays vehicle fuel efficiency as well as information on tire pressure, oil life, airbag status and seatbelt use through real-time alerts. All in all, Ford estimates the software can help fleets improve their fuel efficiency by up to 20 percent.
The system can be ordered on new Ford pickups and Transit Connect vans, and also installed on select older vehicles. The Crew Chief device mounts under vehicle dashboards and starts up with the car.
While Ford's fleet management software fuses vehicles with IT, a new partnership between Microsoft and Toyota also brings energy, and a little bit of buildings, into the mix.
The two companies will invest $12 million in Toyota subsidiary Toyota Media Services and develop telematics services that will be available for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in 2012. "You have to shoot ahead of what the customers think they're interested in today," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in webcast announcing the partnership, explaining the choice to focus just on electric and hybrid vehicles initially.
Customers will be able to monitor and control their vehicles in a number of ways — voice recognition, in-car GPS console, smart phones, computers — to do things like change heating and air conditioning, check battery level and find nearby charging stations. The system also has the potential, when hooked up the smart grid, to let customers choose to charge when energy demand is low, or even connect to appliances, heating and lighting within homes.
The telematics services will use Windows Azure platform, which allows companies to build and host applications in the cloud through Microsoft data centers. Toyota's eventual plan is have a global cloud platform set up by 2015 for all of its customers.
"The cloud enables a new speed of application development, a new scalability to more countries, more markets...but it also enable a new kind of application," Ballmer said, "If you really want to bring data from the power grid and from the car together and put it in a way that is easy for the driver...to act upon, assembling it someplace behind Toyota's walls...or behind Microsoft's walls, should enable not only faster, better, and lower cost applications, but better consumer experience."
"As we enter the smart grid era," said Toyota president Akio Toyoda, "I am confident that through our partnership we will improve our products' contribution to sustainable mobility in which we can meet the travel needs of our customers and support a good economy while maintaining safety and preserving the environment."
Ford trucks - CC license by DiamonBack Truck Covers/Flickr