Close up man is giving keys to woman at car dealership

Revolutionizing ETA Predictions: The Role of Real-Time Vehicle Visibility in FVL

A senior auto industry executive summed it up best:

“You can order a $25 item from Amazon, and get a very reliable delivery date, on-route tracking, and delivery confirmation. But order a $30,000 automobile, and you won’t know anything about where it is or when it might be delivered until the vehicle arrives at the dealership.”

And they’re right. In the battle to improve customer experience in the auto industry, populating that ETA black hole with hard, verified information is a top priority.

The good news: the prospect of delivering “the Amazon experience” is now more achievable than many in the industry think.

The journey a vehicle takes before reaching the dealership

To understand how to fix the problem, let’s look at how it arises in the first place.

Vehicles are assembled at an assembly plant, and driven to a nearby yard—potentially a railhead, but if not, a yard from which stored vehicles are dispatched by road transporter.

Next, the vehicles arrive at a regional yard, before being dispatched to a more local yard—a yard that feeds dealerships at a state level, or which feeds dealers within a major urban conurbation. Then, finally, they’re shipped to end destination dealerships.

For imported vehicles—a major constituent of the US auto market—the process is only slightly different. Typically, vehicles will arrive on ocean-going car carrier vessels, usually to a West Coast port, and also to an East Coast port, once the vessel has passed through the Panama Canal.

Again, the auto terminals at such ports feature huge yards, typically capable of storing two or three ships’ worth of vehicles.

The challenge of vehicle location

Now, all of that is clearly a lot of transit points, and at each transit point, there’s an element of waiting. Foreign-manufactured vehicles, for instance, must be stored at the port until a vessel arrives that’s headed to their destination.

The waiting adds to the overall delivery time to the end-customer, but also —critically—contributes an element of uncertainty, making predictions difficult. And that uncertainty arises because when the time comes for the vehicle to be dispatched from the yard to the next link in the chain, it must first be correctly located.

Which sounds like a trivial task, but it isn’t. We’re talking about yards containing 15,000 vehicles, 20,000 vehicles, or even more. And vehicles don’t always arrive at a yard, get parked in a spot, and then stay in that location until they’re loaded onto a transporter or railcar, in order to be moved to the next link in the chain.

Because vehicles get moved within the yard – sometimes frequently. To an accessorization bay, perhaps, for items such as towbars, additional lights, or in-car entertainment devices. To a repair bay, if they’ve been damaged, or left the assembly plant incomplete as a result of ongoing parts shortages. To a charging point, if they’re electric vehicles. Afterwards, they very rarely get driven back to exactly the same location they came from. And sometimes, they’re moved just to free up space in a portion of the yard, so that incoming vehicles can be unloaded and parked more efficiently.

And here’s precisely where the trouble arises: with each move, the new location must be captured, and stored—so that when the time comes to move the vehicle again, it can be found. And finding vehicles doesn’t always happen.

Meaning that whatever was supposed to be happening to the vehicle in question couldn’t happen—usually until the next periodic yard audit located its position. Until then, it’s stuck in limbo, with nothing happening to it.

Its journey to the dealership, in short—and to the eventual end-customer—has come to an abrupt halt. And the more yards that a vehicle transits, and the more operations or movements are carried out, the greater the probability of just such an outcome.

All of which makes predicting a vehicle’s arrival date at a dealership very uncertain. Which is very, very frustrating for the end-customer.

Illuminating precise vehicle movement

So what’s the answer?

Simple: a real-time asset tracking system that tells yard operators exactly where vehicles are located automatically, reliably, and without error.

At Cognosos, our RTLS technology delivers exactly this. It’s a solution that is based around low-cost wireless-equipped GPS-enabled hardware tags containing onboard accelerometers, which are triggered every time a vehicle is moved—automatically updating vehicles’ location each and every time it’s moved.

The location is then broadcast over Cognosos’ patented low-cost long-range wireless network, which has a range of up to 2 miles outdoors, and up to 100,000 square feet indoors. So there’s little need for investment in infrastructure such as additional wireless masts, or ‘repeater’ stations.

Additionally, Cognosos’ RTLS also includes a cloud-based application platform, delivering actionable intelligence. Want to know how many times vehicles are moved? Which vehicles have been in the yard longest? Where’s the nearest high-specification vehicle model in a particular color? Those answers are easily available.

The bottom line

Obviously, all of this delivers significant cost-savings and efficiencies for yard operators. There’s far less time spent looking for vehicles, and no need for costly yard audits. Driver productivity increases sharply, and transporter and railcar loading is much quicker. Average vehicle dwell time reduces and the benefits go on.

But it’s the impact on the customer experience that is truly transformational.

And in the battle for market share, that customer experience is a metric that is receiving increasing amounts of attention.

If you want to learn more about next-generation RTLS and how it’s improving operations for FVL stakeholders, download our guide, “The Alignment Advantage: How to Improve FVL Efficiency and Profitability” now.

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