By Mark Boada, Executive Editor
One of the central components of the so-called “mobility revolution” is the booming application of telematics, the wireless digital connection of automobiles. Canada-based Geotab is a world leader in the field, and in this exclusive interview with Fleet Management Weekly, Edward Kulperger, the company’s senior vice president for Europe, provides an inside look into the company, discussing its size, growth rate, fleet focus and agenda for the transition to electric vehicles.
Geotab’s message to the global fleet market right now?
A couple of things. First, that we’re the largest telematics company in the world now. We have a little over 2 million connected vehicles. We’ve been investing heavily into electric vehicles and big data for many years, and we feel that we are well-positioned as a telematics data platform to take advantage of the next wave of investment into connecting your vehicles.
We have 40 billion data points coming into our system every day, so we are one of the largest Cloud organizations on the planet. As industry leaders have said, mobility – understanding and more efficiently managing the movement of goods and vehicles – is going to be the next megatrend, and we think we’re well ahead of the curve there. We’re entirely fleet-focused, and our investment into Big Data, EV technology, and enabling fleets to go and operate electric.
I’ve seen studies that say you’re the second largest.
I don’t know all the criteria they’re using and whether it includes retail customer data. We’re very focused on fleets, and I’d be very curious if one were larger than us. We have 2,024,102 units in vehicles around the world at this very second — I’m looking at a big data board in our facility, and we’re adding approximately 75,000 units per month.
But if we’re number one or two or three or vice versa, it doesn’t affect our focus. We’re an engineering company and we like to convey that. We don’t sell direct to the market, so it enables us to stay focused on the engineering side, the firmware on our devices, the device itself and, more importantly, the application and how to get data to people to leverage the data to make business decisions. So, that’s really our core focus.
We don’t have any private equity or public investment, so we get to control our destiny, and that’s a huge thing we’re proud of. So, every month or every quarter we don’t have a board breathing down our necks saying, “Hey, what press release are we going to put out?” or “What are our numbers?”. We get to stay focused on innovating and the things that are important for the businesses we serve.
How much of your business lies outside North America?
Ballpark, 85 percent of our business is in North America. Around six years ago we started moving to an international scope. Today, we have just under 100 people in Europe and are growing that. We have branches in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as down in Latin America and South Africa, so we do understand that the markets are significantly different. And we believe that quote “going global” requires local initiatives. We think it’s vitally important to be global, to have local people who understand the nuances of the business, whether it’s data-specific or solution-specific.
There are massive differences between telematics in North America and Europe, and then you extend that into Latin America and APAC and Africa, where risk environments vary, and solutions are leveraged differently. So, we have a real solid understanding of how to go global. We think that focusing on our platform and then adding capabilities around translation and localization of products is the right path to success.
Are you seeing the globalization of fleets a growing trend?
Yes. Over the last couple of years, a number of fleets that have vehicles in multiple countries, that have tens of thousands of vehicles crossing 10, 20 and more borders are starting to consolidate their fleet strategies. There are a few companies that are ahead of the curve there, and two of the largest in their industries have gone global with Geotab. The largest courier company and the largest consumer products company in the world have both presented at our Geotab Connect conference and talked about the virtues of leveraging our data to make purchasing decisions, to infuse health and safety regulations, and create predictive maintenance measures on a local basis with global direction and oversight. Being able to aggregate data globally, minus drivers’ personal information, and leverage it to make data-driven decisions is an absolute trend.
Tell us about your investment in research and development.
We put about 17 percent of our revenue back into R&D. So, in 2019 you’re looking at around $50 million that went back into research and development. This supports approximately 70 data scientists who are looking at novel ways to understand and predict the future around vehicle usage as well as another 60-plus folks who are specific to electric vehicle technology. Both of these investment areas are core to the future of mobility, which I believe will be electric, connected and data-driven.
How do you help fleets with electric vehicles?
Two ways. One of the things that we’ve developed is an electric vehicle suitability assessment, or EVSA for short. Running this, we can take a fleet with Geotab devices connected today, available throughout Europe, and in less than an hour we can determine what percentage of their vehicles can transition to electric, what type of electric vehicles — hybrid to fully-electric –they should transition towards, taking into account local electricity tariffs and any purchase incentives. This data-driven approach takes into account the current needs of your fleet and allows you to seamlessly make the transition to electric at the right time.
Second, we help fleets optimize how they operate a fleet of EVs. One of the biggest concerns fleet managers have is range anxiety about electric vehicles. Through Geotab’s data platform, you can monitor in real-time a vehicle’s state-of-charge and, therefore, understand when vehicles need to charge and which vehicles you are able to deploy. Similarly, through an EV charging report we provide you can understand when, where, and how long the EVs need to charge, see where the charging stations are, and scan your usage to determine if there are patterns you can take advantage of. We also send out a notification when your battery is at a critical level while it’s on road, enabling you to prioritize charging events. Our platform allows fleet operators to fully understand EV usage patterns and utilization rates and therefore make the most of your EV fleet.
We understand that fleets are unlikely to transition to electric overnight from zero to 100 percent. The point is our platform is an all-in-one solution that supports all vehicles types enabling mixed fleets to operate effectively.
May I ask you what your revenue is, or is that secret?
No, 2019 we were at $321 million US, and are trending toward $440 million this year. In 2018 it was $228 million and the year before that was $160 million. So, kind of the hockey stick trend.
We’re almost out of time, so I want to ask you: what’s on Geotab’s drawing board?
One of the things we’re investing a lot in is around the OEM side. So, two areas: first, we have a really unique methodology for extracting vehicle data that’s patented, and second, leveraging the data that OEMs are sending to their cloud environment and integrating it into the Geotab environment. So, fleets can benefit from that data without installing one of our units. That’s a trend we’re investing in, over-the-cloud connectivity. We made recent announcements about agreements with Ford and GM. Some more OEMs are doing those integrations today and we anticipate a number of announcements throughout this year.
That’s really surprising because there’s a raging debate over who owns the data.
Who owns the data is a very difficult question for the OEMs and everybody. Geotab takes the stance that the owners of the data are the people who own and operate the vehicles and that other parties can be processors of data, given the proper acceptances.
I think the OEM community at large understands that they don’t actually own the data and that by sharing some of it with fleet data aggregators like Geotab they can improve their products, develop trust, and increase revenue streams. Not only is this trend happening in North America, we see this in Europe as well, where the issue of who owns the data is evolving. And we’re starting to see the German manufacturers adopt a more open and transparent position as long as the transmission of data to fleets is private and secure.
OEM data integration into the Geotab platform enables our fleets to continue to leverage the world’s premier telematics solution without the necessity of installing a device. I believe that’s a trend that will continue, while at the same time affording vehicle manufacturers the opportunity to learn about what data is important to Geotab’s fleet ecosystem.