Corporate drivers are at the forefront of major growth plans announced by telematics supplier Wingcast which now operates from new European head offices in Germany and the United Kingdom.
The company, a joint venture created by Ford and QUALCOMM, said it plans to offer its services on a pan-European basis starting with the key markets of France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
'Fleet drivers and operators are very important to our business,' stressed Wingcast Europe president and chief executive officer Dr Lars Kreul. 'It is very important to us that we have a fleet offering and this will start in the Transit van next year before moving into cars.
'We aim to offer our services to both corporate drivers and fleet operators because they do require very different systems.'
Kreul said the company is free to negotiate contracts with any car manufacturer even though it is a creation of Ford's.
'We are a preferred supplier to Ford,' he said, 'but it does not restrict our business. We are treated as a completely separate company and not as a Ford division. We are in discussion with other manufacturers.'
Kreul shrugged off claims that telematics systems will prove expensive for fleets if drivers can access subscription-only services saying: 'The reason why more and more fleets choose to use such systems is because they are cost effective. They offer value for money and they can also increase the resale price of a car.
'GM estimated an extra $1,000 per vehicle. Although we believe that estimate is too high, even if it was only $100 it would be worth it.'
Telematics experts also claim fleets will benefit from in-car systems that guide drivers away from time-consuming congestion and take them directly to the chosen destination in the quickest time.
By 2003, Wingcast aims to have systems - either for consumers and fleets - fully operational in France, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom, and Benelux, Italy and Spain will closely follow.
Kreul said the biggest challenge facing the company today is having the right infrastructure, both in terms of data available and transmission technology, in place on a pan-European basis. Telematics, he said, is in its infancy.
'It is challenging because we are starting from the beginning. I believe that there will only be one or two telematics aggregates in the future and we will be one of them.'
He said having the backing from a major manufacturer like Ford and a big player in the communications industry such as QUALCOMM would ensure Wingcast's success.
'Although we look ahead to about four or five years we realise we have to be flexible because telematics is still young,' he said.
Wingcast recently opened new head offices in Munich, Germany, and Basildon in the UK.
The company was launched a year ago and at that time, Ford president and chief executive officer Jac Nasser said: 'Wingcast is Ford's vehicle for redefining the future of mobile communications. We are not only transforming the automobile into the next mobile portal, but also creating a new company that will develop and deliver a collection of leading edge technology and services.' (July/August 2001)