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June 25, 2015 1:00 PM, EDT

Daimler Takes Minority Stake in Zonar

Daimler Trucks North America

Daimler Trucks North America announced June 25 it has taken a minority stake in Zonar Systems Inc., expanding a relationship started earlier this decade with the Virtual Technician remote diagnostic platform.

Matt Pfaffenbach, DTNA’s director of telematics, said the investment amounts to “under 25%” of Zonar, but declined to elaborate further.

He said the agreement “reflects our pursuit of connected vehicles and the related services that will spin off,” as part of the move toward autonomous vehicles.

“Our investment in Zonar will help us to put connected services on the road with even greater speed and variety,” Wolfgang Bernhard, head of commercial vehicles for Daimler AG, said in a joint statement from the companies.

The companies first teamed on the remote diagnostic Virtual Technician system on 2012 Freightliner trucks with Detroit-branded engines. The system, initially created by Daimler several years earlier, is currently in use by more than 150,000 vehicles..

Since this announcement, all other North American heavy-duty truck makers have introduced their own remote diagnostics systems.

In late 2013, DTNA unveiled the first factory-installed computer tablet (TT log-in required) for its trucks, which was developed in conjunction with Zonar. At the same time it began branding its growing telematics offerings as “Detroit Connect.”

Zonar CEO Brett Brinton told Transport Topics it was important for his company to maintain its identity and to be able to continue to serve any trucking fleet, not just those running DTNA’s Freightliner or Western Star models.

At the same time, he said, enhancing the Daimler relationship will help fuel the development of a smarter truck, one “with the driver in mind.”

“We want [the driver] to love the experience,” Brinton said.

As part of the deal, DTNA President Martin Daum will become a member of Seattle-based Zonar’s board.

“The strategic partnership provides DTNA the ability to leverage the agile development and rapid innovation cycles for which Zonar is known,” Daum said in the statement.

Zonar has more than 400,000 telematics devices installed in commercial vehicles that offer inspection reports, remote diagnostics, vehicle performance and communications software.

The company's latest-generation “2020” tablet includes hours-of-service software to meet the pending electronic logging device mandate.

Brinton also forecasted growth for Zonar into more segments of the commercial vehicles space, including private fleets, vocationals and school buses.

At the ALK Technology Summit last month, Pfaffenbach said truck makers will play a larger role in the telematics market in the coming years, mainly to complement services already provided by technology suppliers.

With the investment deal finalized, company officials suggested there likely would be additional announcements later this year regarding new product developments.