Beyond telematics: Webfleet’s growth trajectory in Poland and electrification Initiatives
Below is an interview conducted between trans.iNFO's Michał Pakulniewicz and Taco van der Leij, Vice-President of Webfleet Europe.
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Below is an interview conducted between trans.iNFO's Michał Pakulniewicz and Taco van der Leij, Vice-President of Webfleet Europe.
Last time we spoke was a year ago in September in Hannover during the IAA Transportation fairs. At that time you said that around mid-2023 Webfleet will be launching a telematics product for the cold chain industry. And indeed the product is already on the market. How has it been performing so far?
Taco van der Leij, Vice-President of Webfleet Europe:
Yes, it was launched in the first half of the year. Of course it always takes a little bit of time before it becomes actively used by customers. Interestingly enough so far it has been most successful in Poland. We have a few large players on the market that are using it, but also a number of middle sized ones.
What we see is that cold chain is a relatively big part of the logistics market and we see a big demand particularly in Poland, Spain and France. All these countries are large food and agricultural products makers. Webfleet Cold Chain is an important product because it guards the quality of the goods and ensures the carriers that they have the right conditions to transport the temperature sensitive goods. We are actually quite happy with the way it is performing.
You mentioned large and middle-size players already showing interest in Webfleet Cold Chain. So speaking of company size, I would like to ask about the overall profile of all your customers in Poland. The Polish transportation market is very fragmented and full of small, family business. What it relatively lacks is large number of firms with hundreds and even thousands of vehicles. So who are your main clients in Poland, the small firms, the branches of international logistics operators?
We are originally a German company and we have our biggest customer base there. If you look at Webfleet in general it is originally designed for the mid-size markets. In Germany too there are a lot of family-owned and small businesses that have 10-20 trucks. That is our origin.
But we have grown, we have adapted our capabilities and systems and can now also address the very large customers. And we do have customers that have 1000 vehicles, even 2000 vehicles, but the core of our clients are mid-size firms of about 50 vehicles. If we look particularly at the Polish market it is one of our strongest growth areas.
The adaptation of telematics and digital solutions came a bit later to the Polish market, particularly in the small and mid-size segment. We see more and more the notion among smaller companies in Poland that you need it to increase the performance of your fleet. We see the small company segment being the strongest growth area in Poland. But as far as the whole client base, we have a few large firms, but the bulk are mid-size companies of around 50 vehicles.
What do you think this delay in opening up to telematics in Poland in comparison to the Western European markets was caused by? Lack of funds? Awareness?
I don’t believe it is lack of awareness. We didn’t do any research on this issue, but my view is that running a company means having a lot of problems on your head, facing constant challenges, etc. Telematics is not a number one priority.
There is always more important things – serving customers, new regulations and the need to be competitive. That means having a competitive cost base. I think what happened was that for a very long time the Polish cost base was good enough to be competitive. So they didn’t need telematics systems to optimise their operations.
In the last couple of years the cost levels, the labour costs in Poland increased due to the expansion of the economy. They are now much higher than in the past. So the Polish carriers cannot compete on lower costs alone. They need to come up with new tools to further improve the overall performance of their fleet. I actually find Polish carriers quiet open and adaptive to innovation.
How important is Poland to Webfleet in terms of share in revenue?
We are originally a German company and Germany is by far our largest market. After that we see countries that are strong in telematics like the Netherlands and the UK. Then France and Poland are just behind that. But Poland is the fastest growing market for us. And the growth perspective is promising too.
So how do you sell telematics to a small family carrier in Poland? It is likely that he is struggling with high fuel costs, growing labour costs and every penny counts for him. How do you convince him to invest in telematics?
Of course we have to keep in mind that every region is different and has its nuances and also every industry is different too. But looking overall there are key things that telematics bring. One is always better control of your costs. You are able to save fuel. Our customers after the implementation of the tools can save up to 10%, 15% and even 20% of the fuel. That alone saves a lot of money.
Secondly, you can further optimise your order management and activities. The third one is that you can save a lot of time by having a proper telematics system. That reduces a lot of administrative work and frees up human resources.
For instance, the tachograph – you need to download the information once a month, mobilise a person to do it, to manage it, keep track of when to do it, etc. If you can do that remotely then you can save time by not doing all these chores mentioned before. The final one is that our systems help you be in line with all the new regulations that are being introduced by the EU and avoid fines.
The investment cost is not an issue I think. The biggest challenge for the companies is the change of way of working, the adaptation to something new.
Owners of small carriers are usually quiet busy, have little time, don’t want to take the trucks off the road to have the equipment installed, plus there is always the issue of convincing and training the drivers. That internal investment is probably one of the reasons why companies are withholding from doing this. For me I would ask them this question – what’s your competition doing? Do you want to be the last one to implement it?
This year you announced a partnership with Renault with regards to your product OEM.connect where your telematics are pre-installed in the newly manufactured cars. You already have a number of manufacturers in your portfolio with the system being installed in passenger and light commercial vehicles. Will this product be available in trucks also in the near future?
Yes, we have integrated the OEM.connect with a number of producers in smaller vehicles, light vans. The next step are the heavy vehicles. But that is much further away. We are already working together in this segment with RIO – a telematics platform used by MAN.
But overall there is so much more data that you need to get from the truck and you have other functionalities like integrating it with the tachograph, you need to have the ability to get tyre data, potential data for companies in the cold chain, you need to get information from your trailer.
So the span of information is much richer and I think it will take some time before we will see truck manufacturers also providing the real quality data.
Is this something you are considering, an idea for the future or are you in some concrete talks?
We are in discussions with other manufacturers at the moment, not all of them.
When it comes to light vehicles we have more or less most brands in our portfolio, but with trucks it is going much slower and will take time.
Are there any solutions for the heavy vehicles that you are working on right now that are to be launched in the near future?
So this year was already quiet busy for us in terms of solutions for the heavy transport. I mentioned the Webfleet Cold Chain. We already had a product for basic services of the trailers and this year we added a new product that includes information from the braking system. We also expanded that product with a tyre monitoring service. This is a recent solution launched just this summer.
We will also continuously develop the Cold Chain product. Another thing we launched is the adaptation to the smart tachograph. We will continuously invest in the services that we are constantly looking for ways to make the drivers’ life easier and help them perform their job efficiently.
We have an order management module on our driver terminals that allow them to accept orders, plan routes to clients, plan the work day. We have now expanded that to include signatures, photos to the application. So we are furthering expanding and adding to applications for the drivers. What’s important is that you can connect all the systems through APIs (application programming interface).
Telematics nowadays is not a closed system, it’s an open system where we have a driven terminal which allows the driver to connect and interact with the fleet manager. Next to that we have a couple of applications that keep running in the terminal or the back-end. This allows the fleet manager to get access to more data and information than we as one company could provide.
So right now we are not launching anything new but rather innovating, exchanging and adapting the existing solutions making sure they are meeting the latest standards.
What about your products relating to electrification? That is one of the hot topics in the transport industry at the moment.
We invest a lot in the electrification of transport. We have a lot of data related to charging enabling smart charging. If you have a fleet of electric vehicles you need to bring them to your depot to charge them. If they all want to charge at the same time you either have to upgrade your infrastructure, which is very expensive, or you can manage the charging times.
We can now provide a solution where we connect with the charging infrastructure at the depot and we can help them optimise their charging. That helps them save on the infrastructure cost and improve the performance of their fleet. This tool Webfleet EV Smart Charging is mainly used for bus companies, but also for freight transport firms.
Will this solution also be expanded like the other applications. And also do you also have products for trucks using the other low emission fuels?
There are a lot of things happening in this field. We have different adaptations that we have implemented – you can see how full your battery is, but also in case of other vehicles, hydrogen included, we show much fuel is left in the tank. We are continuously investing, particularly in the EV segment.
We are integrating the products for the EV with our routing solutions so you can plan (based on your battery level) when to make stops to charge the vehicle, and where to make them on your daily route. We also have an advisory tool for our customers. Based on the behaviour of their fleet and the trips they make, their stops and locations we can give them advice on how to best transition their fleet into EV.
So it’s a complete end to end package for our customers supporting them on every step of their electrification journey. Also driving behaviour when using an EV is also very important – as driving style helps you preserve and extend your battery and your range. It’s one of our core areas that we are investing in.
How are the products for the electric vehicles doing in Poland? Electrification of transport is viewed with scepticism by many carriers in our country being seen as unfitting for long distance transport that many Polish transport firms specialise in.
I am actually surprised because we get a lot of inquiries from Poland. It is not a country that is behind in electrification from our point of view in terms of sales of our products.
But mind you this doesn’t mainly apply to long haul trucks, but rather electric vans, vehicles like forklifts operating on warehouse premises, and also bus companies using electric vehicles. In general, what we see from our customer base is that the uptake in Poland is quite good.
There are countries that are doing worse. The countries that are leading are the Netherlands and the UK, then after them France, but Poland is not that far behind.
So what’s in store for Webfleet product wise in the coming months?
We already have tools helping customers to report their CO2 emissions which will be mandatory starting next year. We can provide the information for the vehicles. We are also ready for the TPMS (tyre pressure monitoring systems) implementation which will also be mandatory next year.
We will also come up with a small feedback device for drivers where we can provide information on the drive style, tyre pressure, etc. It is a tool even smaller than the ProM that we launched last year. You can connect it to our black box and get all the basic information that the driver needs. It can also be used as a work start identifier, like a card. That product should enter the market in December.