Interviews
26 Feb 24

“Winning is having happy customers, not beating competitors”

Here are a few things we learned at Geotab Connect 2024 in Las Vegas: the telematics giant with more than 4 million vehicles connected realises AI is a game-changer, aims to become number one in Europe, is heavily investing in Brazil, and is developing a scooter tracking solution specifically for the Asia-Pacific market. Also, the company wants to collaborate: with OEMs, and even with competitors. We sat down with Geotab CEO Neil Cawse to hear why – and how.  

Car manufacturers are developing their own connected services. How do you see your collaboration with them, going forward?  

Neil CAWSE: “Five years ago, we used to think that OEMs could be competitors to Geotab. I remember discussions in the Board, going: This is not good - we can be disintermediated. But we very quickly realised a couple of points.”  

“One: no customer wants to buy telematics from just one OEM, because they don’t want to be forced to buy vehicles from just that one OEM. Companies want to have mixed fleets.”  

“Two: While it’s true that 80% to 90% of the new vehicles that are coming out are connected, the average age of vehicles on the road in Europe is 13 years. That means there are a lot of vehicles that are much older. So, it’s going to be many years before we can stop worrying about connecting older vehicles. In the meantime, we need a solution that connects those older vehicles.”  

“And three: OEMs are focused on building cars, and they’re good at it, but they’re not talking to customers every single day about the business problems they’re facing - the safety challenges, the logistics issues and how to manage them. This is where Geotab comes in, because we are talking to those customers, and we are solving their problems. That knowledge allows us to build a better telematics system.”  

“Because of all this, we have gone from seeing OEMs as competitors to realising they are partners. We know that the future of telematics belongs to the OEM. They are integrating telematics into their vehicles. They know more about how all of these systems work than anybody. So inevitably, in the long run, the telematics data has to come from them.”  

“What Geotab needs to do, is to work with them and to show them: This is the data we need to get out of that vehicle to solve a fleet problem. So we teach them how to think about seatbelts, what resolution to record your electrical system in, etcetera. It’s a real collaborative partnership, setting the standard for vehicle data so the whole industry can benefit.” 

As big players, OEMs have an inherent inertia. So they don’t change course easily. Does that mean it’s difficult for Geotab to convince them of the value that you bring to the table? 

“Good question. And we see different attitudes among the OEMs. North American OEMs are driven by the demands of their customers, who tell them: The OEM data is not giving us what we need. Those are also Geotab customers, so that puts a certain pressure on the OEMs. As a result, they’re working very closely with us.”  

“Some of the Asian OEMs are starting work closely with us. We’re also working closely with some of the European OEMs, including Daimler and BMW. With other European OEMs, such as Volkswagen, we still need to make more progress.”  

“You’re right: big organisations are like oil tankers, moving in one direction. And that’s hard to influence. You have to have 50 meetings before you get to the right person in the organisation. But that change is definitely happening. Just look at how many OEMs are here at the Geotab Connect conference.” 

Partnering with OEMs is one thing, but at the end of your keynote speech, you said you were even willing to collaborate with competitors. Two questions: Who do you see as your competitors? And how do you see that collaboration?  

“I strongly believe that we have to put the customer’s needs first and foremost. Geotab is very competitive. We want to win. But we have to look at winning as not necessarily about beating competitors, but as having happy customers.”  

“What customers, want, is freedom of choice, a healthy, competitive environment, and an open ecosystem. Because that’s good for them. Locking customers in, limiting their choice, not giving them what they need at a reasonable price: this is going to hurt everyone in the long run.”   

“So if we look at it from our customers’ perspective, we see that having a standard allows them to have choice. They can get their data from Geotab, or from somebody else. Standards create choice, and force us to compete on the performance of our products.”  

“This is long-term thinking, and it’s very important to us. Yes, we could only care about the short term, only have proprietary products, and probably make more money. But I know that if you look after your customer’s interests, it will always pay off better in the long run.” 

“The way we work with our competitors, is first of all we have a very open dialogue. So, who do we see as our competitors? Webfleet is the largest telematics provider in Europe. Globally, we have a great relationship with Bridgestone. We don’t have a close relationship with Samsara, a major player in North America, but we’d love to. We’ve reached out to Verizon Telematics, which is another competitor. We would welcome and encourage all our competitors to come and participate in the standards bodies. Because it’s cohesive; it’s the OEM standards. And we’re donating stuff to those standards, for example the curve logging approach. So again, that’s for the benefit of the customers in the long run.” 

As we’ve seen at this event, your resellers are very important for you. Who would be your dream reseller?  

“Having the OEMs as resellers would be a magic thing. It’s like getting them over the line to go: We trust you with our connected car strategy. We already partner with a lot of OEMs in that way, but to partner with the big OEMs this way would be amazing.” 

“I’m also thinking of some non-traditional partnerships. For example, we’re working with Deloitte across many regions. We’d like to grow those partnerships with consulting firms that are helping companies to electrify, reduce emissions, optimise their fleet and automate. Those are the companies we want to work with: they’re looking at real business challenges, and bringing solutions to address them.”  

You’ve talked about the importance of data quality. How do you guarantee this for your customers when you’re working with many different partners, and indeed competitors?  

“That’s a question that we grapple with a lot. Certainly, our open approach has a lot of strengths and we believe it is the right thing to do. But it does come with some downsides, and you’ve highlighted an important one. One remedy is the high quality of the support we as Geotab can offer. This will ensure a high quality in our interactions with the customer.”  

“If we have a lot of products in our marketplace, how do we guarantee the quality of those products is high? We spend a lot of time and effort to make sure we do as good of a job as possible. We have a certification process for products to get onto the marketplace. Our resellers are trained up all the time. We have a certification to make sure you can’t sell to the public sector if you don’t understand the space.”  

“All of that largely nullifies those concerns. I would say that there is still variability. It is a work in progress, and we will ultimately get there. But it does bring the power of choice. Each reseller adds value in a particular area. Ultimately, if one reseller is not working for you, you can go to another one. That’s important, because I don’t believe one company can be all things to all people. The power of our ecosystem is that we have loads of specialists in various areas. Maybe it’s food and bev, maybe it’s a European team that really understands the German market. The customer ends up with more specialisation, which I think is good.” 

Final question: can you share something about your geographical expansion plans across Europe, South America, and Asia Pacific? 

“We are very competitive you know. In Europe, we want to become a truly pan-European player, and the way to that is to understand that Europe is not a country and so we will need to have people in each country to serve the people in that country, to make sure that the local conditions are taken into account.” 

“Mexico was an early start for us in Latin America, but we were late in Brazil. It’s a very protected market, but an important one – too large to ignore. So now we’re investing heavily in the Brazilian market. Brazil is doing well and growing considerably, but it has a unique set of challenges. There are more safety issues, but Brazil also leads the world in driver coaching. So these things are also expected in the product.” 

“The Asian market is gigantic and stands out for its diversity, and for the high percentage of scooters used. So, coming up with an effective scooter tracking solution is on our road map. One of the challenges there is that data from the CAN bus is not available, and many vehicle types don’t even have an OBD connection. But things are improving over time, so you will hear from us also in APAC.” 

At Geotab Connect 2024, the telematics specialist presented a series of new developments and solutions. Discover them here.

Caroline Thonnon, CEO, and Steven Schoefs, Head of Strategic Relations at Global Fleet met with Geotab CEO Neil Cawse at Geotab Connect 2024 in Las Vegas. 

Interview by Caroline Thonnon and Steven Schoefs.

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