Christoph Ludewig, Mercedes-Benz Connectivity Services: Let’s get connected and secure real-time vehicle insight
One of the most over-used words in the automotive domain is connectivity. It may mean different things to different people, but not for Christoph Ludewig. “Connectivity means transmission of data and making knowledge out of data. To do that in the car business you need connectivity. Connectivity basically is the enabler to data insight.”
Christoph Ludewig is the CEO of Mercedes Connectivity Services, the Daimler Financial Services company dedicated to the development of connectivity services in the car fleet business. And that is what he and his team successfully achieved with the 'connect business' solution for fleets, a fleet management system enabling real-time based, predictive vehicle and fleet management.
It all started back in 2014. “It was then the project was started, with the first ideas,” smiles Christoph Ludewig. “At that time we said there must be a need for fleet connectivity on the passenger car side. So, we evaluated that and tried to figure out if there is a business case or not. Even though fleet connectivity was relatively scarce on the passenger car side, we believed in it and saw a true business case.”
“We first did prototypes, evaluated them on the market with some customers and then decided to go live. We also decided for a sales approach to bundle this into a dedicated company named Mercedes-Benz Connectivity Services which was newly founded especially for fleet connectivity. The reasons for this were that we wanted one entity that is fully responsible for this business and is totally committed to it. We also believed it might be helpful to position this business a little bit standalone to be more agile and flexible.”
When was the Connectivity Services activity launched?
C.L.: “The company was founded in 2016 and the go-live of the product ‘connect business’ was in April 2017.”
What is “connect business” about?
C.L.: “It’s our product brand, and we have several services that we sell to the customers under the brand ’connect business’. Connect business stands for the whole service portfolio for fleet connectivity. It’s a web-based application, together with an API and an app, which addresses the fleet manager and where the fleet manager can get a detailed real-time view on his fleet and his drivers.”
“Connect business has a modular product portfolio. It offers different services that can be selected by the customer separately. If you want to use the Digital Driver’s Log you select that. So that’s one, Vehicle Monitoring & Maintenance is another one, Vehicle Logistics, Driver Messaging, and the API whereby we provide the data base is a product as well.”
“And one great feature is notifications – on almost everything that happens with the fleet, you can enter thresholds to manage the fleet like you want, for example focusing on exceptions. These kinds of services are on offer with ’connect business', and the customer can tell us exactly which ones he needs."
How did you go about starting?
C.L.: “We developed this product from zero, and we made it especially for the management of passenger car fleets. This is what is unique: I haven’t seen any section of the market that has focused on the passenger car use case in this detail. There are some that focus on parts like the digital logbook for drivers. There are others focussing on track and trace but they are not offering the digital logbook. We are doing a little bit more. We have a product portfolio which is still growing and will be growing over time but which has a starting phase now and is really focussing on the needs of passenger car fleet managers and passenger cars.”
What’s the difference with a fleet management system of a leasing company, for example in the case of Daimler’s leasing company Athlon?
C.L.: “The purpose is a different one. The fleet management system of the leasing companies is for configuring cars, managing lease contracts, managing repair costs, etc., so they’re very strong on the cost side of the contract, but what they are lacking in is the real-time transparency on and management of the car. Take mileage, take tyre pressure. We are not in competition with the existing systems of the leasing companies, we are enhancing the management process with additional vehicle information and cost control.”
“So, if a leasing company integrates our connectivity data in their system, they have everything in one place for the customer. That’s why we offer the API integration. And this leads me to an important point about data protection. What we are doing is not selling data to the customer or to the leasing company. We are just processing the data the customer wants any way. In this logic, it’s your legal property, it’s your data and it stays your data. This also means we can’t just give this data to a third party. The customer always is in control of the data.”
How many vehicles are equipped with 'connect business'?
C.L.: “We now have over 20,000 vehicles equipped and we count roughly 300 customers.”
What are the growth pillars for this business?
C.L.: “Currently we are active in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. That’s only a starting point. We need to get a broader footprint, starting in Europe. We are looking at the UK as one of the largest markets and on France as well. And we expect to enter these markets still this year.”
“Next to the geographic expansion, there is the increased service offer. Think about rental companies. They are desperately looking for sharing solutions. So remotely unlocking and locking the doors enables counter-free and keyless rental processes. This is of course something we are working on. Then we are preparing to go multi-brand: the whole solution should not only fit just to a Mercedes-Benz fleet but to any mixed fleet. Just to give you an idea where this could lead to.”
The second growth pillar could mean more customers. How are you going to do that?
C.L.: “Intensifying sales activities: we have a unique position in the automotive market as we have a sales organisation, access to basically all fleet customers in Europe, and this is a position we want to use, in collaboration with the Mercedes-Benz organisation. We will also closely work together with Daimler’s fleet management brand Athlon to really offer the customers a perfect combination of vehicle, financing solutions, services and connectivity solutions, and with this combination I think we really stand out from the competition.”