The truck as a member of the team

I recently spent a couple days in sunny California, talking connectivity with members of Daimler Trucks North America and its Detroit Connect team. It’s no secret that today’s trucks are generating reams of data. But just how fleets of all sizes can use that data to improve their operations seems to be the crucial detail that still needs answering.

Many fleet managers and their maintenance supervisors admit to being overwhelmed by the data that’s being produced by their vehicles. And OEMs and third-party software providers, to date, have not always done a good job at helping fleets easily drill down into that data to make it actionable and practical, or even understandable.

This could be on the cusp of changing, as all OEMs invest more heavily into connectivity, the industry’s latest buzzword, and for good reason. It was during our discussions in California that I heard, for the first time, the truck referred to as an active member of the team. It is constantly generating data related to fault codes, safety system interventions, and driver and vehicle performance. Once this data becomes digestible, actionable, and practical for fleet decision-makers, that truck does, in a sense, become an active member of the maintenance, safety, or operations department.

This point was reinforced by Dan Deppeler, vice-president of maintenance for Wisconsin-based Paper Transport, who spoke at the event as a Daimler guest. He noted trucks themselves have become commoditized, and that the real opportunity for differentiation between OEMs is in how they manage the data generated by their machines, and present it to fleet decision-makers.

Deppeler went so far as to predict that whichever OEM manages this the best will sell the most trucks.

“This becomes a much more important piece of the purchase decision,” Deppeler said of telematics and connectivity. “Because the truck is beginning to become more commoditized and these are some nice differentiators.”

What do fleets expect of their trucks’ connected services? At Paper Transport, it must remain open architecture, so the fleet can integrate its own apps, such as a customer-facing estimated time of arrival app currently in development, and another that provides a real-time window into the fleet’s available capacity. It must also contribute to greater, more consistent performance.

Deppeler noted at Paper Transport, there’s currently a 1.2 mpg gap between the drivers with the best and worst fuel efficiency, when driving identically spec’d trucks on similar routes with the same payloads.

Deppeler expects to narrow this gap to a more palatable 0.3-0.4 mpg, by using telematics to identify the root causes of the variances and by intervening with drivers who may require additional training. That’s a great example of how truck-generated data can be used to drive real-world improvements within a fleet’s operations. But it’s really only possible if the trucks produce reliable data that is then presented to the fleet in an actionable format.

All the OEMs today are building well designed, fuel-efficient trucks. The market simply would not accept anything less. Fleets have benefited greatly from the fuel economy battle waged between OEMs in recent years. Now the battle is shifting to a new frontier: connectivity.

It will be really interesting to observe in the coming months and years, which OEMs will excel on this new battleground by best making truck-generated data digestible, practical, and actionable for fleets.

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • I was amazed seeing the huge development from just a simple truck to valuable and most appreciated vehicle. That’s why there’s a lot of old trucks have been turnover to truck wreckers to get a new and advanced one.

  • There is no one magic bullet or cocktail of technologies that will work every time for every fleet in every situation. Here are some of the technologies that fleets are using in the Run on Less demonstration that we also have issued Confidence Reports on:
    6×2 axles: These axles improve efficiency by having only one axle of the rear tandem powered and the other non-driving. Today’s 6×2 axles save weight and offer fuel savings of about 2.5 percent. Incorporating manual or automated load shifting, traction control, engine parameter adjustments to reduce low speed clutch engagement and engine brake torque mean tire wear can be improved. And new generation 6×2 axles have addressed some of the traction issues of earlier versions.
    Tire pressure inflation: Proper tire inflation is crucial to optimal operation of a truck. Underinflated tires decrease fuel efficiency and increase tire wear. A 0.5-1 percent increase in fuel consumption is seen in vehicles running with tires underinflated by 10 psi. Systems are available that either monitor tire pressure or monitor and automatically inflate tires with low pressure. Proper inflation reduces rolling resistance and improves fuel efficiency.
    Trailer aerodynamics: When it comes to trailer aerodynamics, fleets have lots of choices, including nose cones, skirts, under body devices, tails, etc. Different devices offer varying amounts of fuel economy gains. Each area of the trailer represents an opportunity to reduce aerodynamic drag. The maximum aerodynamic improvement comes from a combination of sealing the tractor/trailer gap, closing or managing the air along the trailer underbody, and adding a boat tail.