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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Smaller companies turning to GPS

 •  Illustration: Tracking vehicles with satellites

By Yvette Armendariz
Arizona Republic

Last year, Jay Eaton was unable to keep track of his 35 trucks and his pool plastering and repair crews while they were out on the job.

Today, using his computer, he can track their locations, driver speeds and truck idling times. The fact that drivers know they are being monitored encourages them to watch their driving habits and not run too many personal errands.

Eaton, president of Cal Plastering Inc., uses global positioning system technology to stay on top of his business.

Vehicles have a receiver box installed that collects data on location via satellite signal.

The system has helped Eaton's company cut down on labor costs by more than $1,500 a month and improve customer service, he said.

"It was amazing how much productivity we didn't have (before)," he said.

GPS technology, which the military, large trucking firms and airlines have been using for years, is seeping into other, smaller businesses, from towing companies to carpet cleaners, as the cost of the equipment falls and labor and fuel costs rise.

Sales of GPS equipment are expected to hit $22 billion by 2008, up from an estimated $13 billion in 2003, according to data compiled by Allied Business Intelligence Inc., a N.Y.-based technology market research company.

"Prices have come down to a point where small businesses can utilize it," said Myron Hammes, a distributor for FleetBoss GPS in Arizona and part of Nevada. He sells systems that cost from $800 to $1,500 per vehicle.

In the trucking industry, cargo theft and safety concerns led to implementing GPS technology on trucks.

However, GPS devices are not widely placed on cargo items because of cost, said Larry Woolson, regional manager for System Transport Inc. and treasurer of the Arizona Trucking Association.

The system's value to trucking companies comes partly from pressuring drivers to reduce speeds, which improves safety and profitability because of lower insurance and repair costs, he said.

California-based VTrac Systems, which sells GPS systems, is among the newer competitors carving a niche with trucking companies.

National sales manager Jeff Smith cites the recent war in Iraq as spurring interest in GPS outside of the trucking industry.

Media coverage showed how GPS could help track troops and cargo.

Later, corporations began investing in technology to track employees in areas where there is a high hostage risk, he said.

Rental-car companies also are using GPS.

Hertz Rent A Car uses a GPS device on all vehicles to provide customers with directions or to track lost or stolen vehicles, said Richard Broome, vice president of public affairs.

The tracking system is capable of monitoring driving activity by renters, but Hertz does not do so because of privacy issues, he said.

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