The Key to the Digital Transformation of Fleet Vehicles

Episode 10
March 22, 2023

Episode Summary

Mark Thomas, EVP of Marketing & Alliances at Ridecell, returns to Point B to conclude his discussion on the digital transformation of fleet vehicles, with special focus on the digital key. What must OEMs and fleet managers consider when implementing a digital key solution? How will digital keys streamline vehicle checkout processes and user experience? How will this technology make vehicles safer and more secure?

Key Highlights

1:13 - The future of keyless solutions

5:45 - Categories of fleets in digital transformation

9:53 - What’s next in the industry?

Meet Our Guests

Mark Thomas
Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas is the EVP of Marketing & Alliances at Ridecell, the leading automation and mobility platform provider for digital transformation. Prior to joining Ridecell, Thomas headed the connected car marketing team at Cisco Jasper, where he developed the product and go-to-market strategies for automotive OEMs. Prior to Cisco, Mark led product marketing at HERE, a leading automotive maps company. In addition, Mark served in marketing, strategy, and business development roles at Apple and Nokia. Mark holds a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business.



Welcome back to another episode of "Point B," a Sibros podcast where we interview industry experts about the latest innovations and trends in automotive technology and the connected vehicle industry. Tune in to learn about topics ranging from the next generation of electric vehicles to advances in connectivity and micro-mobility.

Steve Schwinke:

Welcome to our "Point B" podcast where we discuss the future of mobility and the underlying market forces and technology that will drive our industry forward. Today, we're covering the digital transformation of the fleet-based industries. And once again, I'm welcoming back my friend, Mark Thomas, the executive vice president of marketing and alliances at Ridecell. 

I want to pick up on the first time we did a door unlock from OnStar back in '97. The next thing people asked for was, "Well, can I get my keys from space?" That's the term that I often used, which is, how do I replace that key fob? And 25 years later, we're still working on that as an industry to deliver the full key experience. I mean, if we can eliminate the key exchange, I think it will just accelerate opportunities around vehicle ownership, new monetization models, and just opportunities for us to innovate in this space.

Mark Thomas:

You bring up an interesting point too, where OEMs are doing keyless today, and I think one of the misconceptions is that that is enough of a keyless solution to completely get rid of the key. The problem is, many of the solutions that are coming depend upon some sort of connectivity. So if you're deep in a parking garage and there's no connectivity, the presumption is you still have the key in your pocket. So even if you can't use the phone app, you can still just press the button and get in and go. When you completely get rid of the key, there is no key fob in the pocket. That's when you have to make sure to have the Bluetooth connectivity in the background to connect the phone. 

The NFC cards are great because it stores the credentials in the vehicle keyless module, not just in the cloud. So having the ability to remember, Mark has this car all day, and his credentials are preloaded. One of the things that becomes even more interesting is that once you've gone keyless, you know who is accessing and driving the vehicle. So in today's world, if somebody has the key fob, they have the right to drive your car. And so if a stolen vehicle starts up and it's moving, the system doesn't know whether that's the driver starting their shift early, or whether that's actually somebody stealing the vehicle. Now, you have the ability to, when that vehicle starts moving and there is no authorized driver tapped in, or admin associated with that vehicle, you can immediately know that that vehicle is in the process of being stolen. And if it's being hooked up to a tow truck, then you call the authorities. 

If it's somebody with the keys, the next level of keyless is having a digital immobilizer. So even if somebody has the key deep in the engine, in a wiring harness that gets layered in, there is a little relay that pops open. This means unless they know where that relay is, which is, generally not something that's well known, they can't even start the vehicle. So the best way to ensure that a vehicle isn't stolen is to just make sure they can't start it. 

We have a customer that's been using this but doesn't leave the immobilizer on by default, and they noticed that one of their vehicles was being stolen. So they sent the command that says that when that vehicle stops, do not allow it to restart. Sure enough, they stopped the vehicle, couldn't start it, and then fled. And instead of having a normal three-week recovery time, that vehicle was recovered in about three to four hours. They just sent the driver there in an Uber, picked up the vehicle, brought it home, and suddenly you've got a business person going, "That was three weeks' worth of income from that vehicle that I am still making. There would have been a lot of customers that reserved that vehicle we'd have to tell them, 'Hey, I'm sorry, vehicle got stolen. We don't have anything for you.'" 

So, it's a better customer experience. It's a financial experience. And in a way, it's interesting because this is really at the C-level where all of these come together. The person who's trying to worry about recovery isn't worried about lost income. The person who's worried about maintenance has a vehicle that's going to be stripped after three weeks. So everybody in their individual roles thinks it's a good thing. But when you get up to the C-level, they realize, as a business, this is a dramatic turning point that will really help improve their customer experience as well as lower their costs.

Steve Schwinke:

Right, and just make their vehicles more attractive too with different opportunities for monetization by the customers that buy them.

Mark Thomas:

Yeah, absolutely. When we talk about the digital transformation of fleets there are two kinds of fleets, two categories of fleets. There are those fleets where the fleet is used to make money. Rental fleets are a classic example. The fleet is the business. And there are fleets that are used to essentially help the business run, take last mile or leasing where the fleets are not directly rented to consumers. So if you've got a business where you're monetizing your fleet, having the ability to have this digital transformation experience means that that you can go from a wait in line at the counter to have somebody look at your driver's license, and then look at you and say, "Yeah, it's you," to just being able to go to the vehicle, get in, and go. Having that means you're freed up from the whole counter experience, just letting people take their vehicles. 

If you're a florist, you need to get to the flower market by 4:00 AM so you want to pick it up at 3:00 AM. You don't want to pick it up the night before, and have to park it, and have to worry about something happening to it. So being able to offer a more valuable service. It also means that the vehicles don't have to be at your depot. If you know that this is the week that all the college kids are moving out, you can just bring the vans and put them in the parking lot, and they can go to the side with the QR code, download the app, verify their credentials, and get on their way and go. 

Having the ability to digitally inspect everything means that you can also do a much deeper look at the driver and see if you want to rent to them. You know, the counter guy's looking at you and go, "Yeah, it's you," and it's printed that it's still valid. He doesn't know, or she doesn't know, that you may have a drunk driving record or lots of points. So a digital experience is better because it's safer and you can have more granularity. 

If you're somebody that has a fleet that is being used for other purposes, it's not so much about how do you monetize it, but how do you do things like make the driver's life and the driver experience better for them? Because we all know right now there's a shortage of drivers. And so you can be competitive if you can make the experience better. In last mile, aside from the roadworthiness – so the driver doesn't arrive and see that there's a check engine light, and it's a problem for them – you can do things when they are on their route because you have automation and digital access to lock, unlock. When those drivers get out of the vehicle and close the door and their hands are full with packages, we can detect that they've walked away and lock the vehicle. Many of them leave the keys in the ignition because it's faster. Having the ability to lock the doors anyhow so people can't get in and tamper with the packages, or even worse steal the vehicle. Then when the driver comes back and is within range, then having the ability to unlock it, and they get in and go. Some drivers leave their vehicles running and that's against their environmental policies. Having the ability to remotely shut off the engine, in addition, means that you can save on fuel costs, you can be better for the environment. The neighbors aren't upset that there are idling vehicles putting fumes in their windows. So this kind of digital control and automation is really something that improves the driver's experience, improves the neighbor's experience, ensures that no vehicles and packages are stolen. And that's just another simple example of how moving the key fob to the cloud lets you set up all kinds of automations.

Steve Schwinke:

I love that example of just taking the redundancy out of the workflow, and automating it by turning off the engine while the person is out of the truck delivering the package. What's next here in the industry? Where is all this heading, and what's most exciting for you and the team at Ridecell? What are you thinking about?

Mark Thomas:

What's interesting, there are so many developments for systems that are getting more and more connected. We go from preventative maintenance to predictive maintenance. You're not just looking at the DVIRs, the driver vehicle inspection reports to see the state of the vehicle. There's things like video car washes that you drive through and they're inspecting everything, seeing a new scratch, or that the license plate may be dangling, or a crack in the windshield, things that the CAN bus doesn't pick up. And then there's new in-cabin monitoring that's monitoring for distracted driving, drunk driving, god forbid. And so the more systems we get, the more insights that we're getting, the more that you have to be able to triage and protect that fleet manager. Because every new system that we get doesn't come with a new fleet manager to immediately act upon that. 

We're getting to this exciting point where there's incredible data, incredible insights, but it's overloading the people that are a part of the teams that are required to maintain it. So having the ability to automate those insights that are coming off, and if you do get a drunk driver in one of your vehicles, having the ability to immediately put up a siren with a voice alert that says, "Pull over." And when they do, stopping the engine and revoking their digital keys is one of those examples that can save lives. It takes place with real-time urgency. And so that's what I'm excited about is that fleets have traditionally been on the slower end of digital transformation, the conventional wisdom being, “Hey, I've got a truck, I have a vehicle. I can't move that to the cloud.” But once the aha moment of, “If I move the key fob into the cloud, I can do all kinds of things.” I think we're just at the breakthrough point where people realize that keyless and digital transformation isn't just for car sharing and shared fleets, it's for every vehicle fleet.

Steve Schwinke:

I hope that our industry can take that digital transformation on and really improve what's going on in the US because these roadways are becoming more and more shared. It's not just cars and trucks. It's the two-wheelers, it's the last mile type of activity that's going on that we really need to pay attention to if we're going to make a difference in safety for everybody.

Mark Thomas:

Yeah, I couldn't agree more.

Steve Schwinke:

Well, Mark, I really do appreciate you joining us here today and I'd like to wish the team at Ridecell and yourself all the best, and hopefully maybe we'll talk again in the near future. Thank you for joining us.

Mark Thomas:

Thanks for the opportunity, Steve. It was a lot of fun.


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