Fleet News

Little black box holds the key to fuel-efficient driving

A new device launched as an option on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter could finally give fleet operators full control over the actions of their drivers.

ExcelArate has just hit the market as a result of a tie-up between Mercedes-Benz and electronics specialist Zeta of Bicester in Oxfordshire.

The system is designed to solve a conundrum when it comes to governing engine power and speed in vans: the engine needs to be powerful enough to lug around one and a half tonnes of cargo, maybe up steep inclines, but when the vehicle is empty, that leaves a lot of un-needed oomph.

The result is a steady stream of 3.5-tonners thrashing down the outside lane at 90mph – something that every van fleet operator wants to stamp out for reasons of both safety and fuel efficiency.

Gordon Anderson, head of Zeta’s business unit, said: “While most heavy commercial vehicle drivers are professionals and will respond to the ‘carrot’ treatment, van drivers are different. The only way to moderate white van man’s driving is to do it for him and that’s exactly what ExcelArate does – it turns even the worst driver in to a moderate, careful driver.”

ExcelArate is a little black box fitted under the dash. It was designed five years ago by Zeta staffman Alan Cox to monitor commercial vehicles and the weight they are carrying every 30 milli-seconds, decide how much power is needed for the vans to proceed in a fuel-efficient manner and deliver the exact amount necessary.

It has been honed over the years – and is still developing – but has finally been brought to market as a £500 add-on extra for the Sprinter.

ExcelArate has been on trial with some of the UK’s biggest fleets – including Ginsters, Ocado, Parcelforce, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s – and the results look impressive.

Fuel savings varied from 4.1% to 25% but Anderson reckons a fleet should save an average of 10% on fuel, which would mean each device would pay for itself in about nine months.

The device has a number of buttons which are programmed by the fleet manager after entering a PIN code.

Top speed can be changed from, say, 70mph to 60mph if no motorway driving is envisaged.
There is also an anti-hijack device so that if the vehicle is stolen, it can be ‘nobbled’ to drive at no more than 5mph.

Anderson said: “There are various ways for fleets to monitor their drivers’ behaviour at present, such as tracking and training, but these are all management intense.

“What fleet operators want is a fit-and-forget device and this is exactly what ExcelArate is.

“The managers will love it and the drivers will hate it at first but they soon get used to it – they have to drive sensibly whether they like it or not.”

Following its tie-up with Mercedes-Benz, Zeta is now looking forward to partnerships with other manufacturers, although Anderson believes that within a few years, many will have their own systems.

He said: “We are a relatively small player in the market and although we have patented the idea of our device, we believe van manufacturers will try and make their own. That’s the way of the world and we have to accept it.”

He is already working on the next stage: remote operation. At present, fleet operators can control the ExcelArate units by changing them manually, but eventually this will be possible remotely via the manager’s PC. The dream of total fleet control will no longer be just a dream but a real possibility.

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  • Patriot - 19/12/2010 23:49

    This is not the answer. The solution is to engage drivers on an initial 1 month contract and monitor their fuel usage over given routes ann distances. If the fuel consumption rises by more than 7% then the driver can be retrained or fired. Nor will it cost fleet owners £500 per van. The 'Zeta' device will not stop erratic,dangerous or inconsiderate driving. Responsible fleet managers can.

  • Edward Handley - 22/12/2010 20:41

    There is no "fit and forget" solution to improving fuel efficiency or fleet safety. Huge fuel savings and improvements in fleet are not only possible but achievable with good management and effective training. This device sounds like a useful tool and coupled with good procedures and training will probably make a difference, but on its own, it will take a long time to pay for itself.

  • Aidan Rowsome - 11/01/2011 11:04

    Although Zeta's box sounds like an attractive way to limit top speeds, we have results that show how the approach of helping the driver improve and sustain all driving skills has the greatest impact on risk and fuel consumption. We disagree with Gordon that van fleet managers do not treat drivers as professionals. Our van fleet clients see their drivers as a face to their brand and treat them with respect, giving them the tools to enhance their driving, not just speeding. Unlike Zeta’s box, GreenRoad’s service does not have to be individually programmed by the fleet manager for each trip. That’s why we have clients with many thousands of vehicles in their fleet. Although speeding is important, why would a fleet manager settle for just for limiting the top speed on a trip when technology is available to analyse all aspects of driving including braking, cornering?

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