During the first week of last June, Shafiq Ahmed (not his real name), a car rental businessman, found himself in an awkward situation. One of his drivers in collusion with a car theft gang disappeared with his car. Shafiq kept calling, but the driver was not picking up. But the driver did not know the car owner had already set up a GPS tracker in the car.
Finally, with his mobile phone, the car owner spotted the car next to a petrol pump in Ukhiya in Cox's Bazar.
The desperate owner contacted AutoGuard, his GPS tracking system providing company and asked the company to remotely shut the car off so that the gang could not take the car away. Fortunately, Shafiq was able to get the car back.
"If the car owners had not installed GPS tracker, it would have been hard for the owner to locate the car," said Samar Mitra, the Managing Partner of the vehicle-tracking system company AutoGuard at his office in Mirpur-10.
With the number of private cars growing over the last decade, the number of vehicle tracking companies in the country have also increased steadily. While Finder, Prohori and EasyTrax led the market for years, AutoGuard arrived in the market in February last year seeing huge opportunities in this sector.
"Bangladesh has huge prospects in this sector because we have limited infrastructure and the number of vehicles is rising," said Samar, who studied computer management at Chicago State University.
Though Samar started the GPS tracking company last year, he worked in the fleet management sector with cutting-edge technology at his father's company, Global Software Architects, for 12 years following his graduation.
Samar, who worked as a consultant at the company, said Global Software Architects has been doing outsourcing work for overseas fleet management companies for more than a decade. Most of their clients are North Americans.
Thus he gathered experience in fleet management operations. "Now [at AutoGuard], we have two types of clients: one is individual car owners and the other is business owners who have a fleet of vehicles," said Samar.
So how does AutoGuard work?
The GPS tracker is a palm-sized device installed in a vehicle that sends messages about the vehicles to the client (vehicle owner).
Autoguard offers different GPS tracking packages based on features. The monthly charge for the economic package, the cheapest one, is Tk399. The package features live location updates, engine enabling and disabling capabilities, geofencing and low battery alerts. And the device price is Tk4,000.
The premium package with 23 features include live location updates, live tracking and low battery alert and door alert. The client will have to pay Tk599 monthly to use the package, while the device price is Tk6,000.
Moreover, the company has a package for business organisations. The package called enterprise is the most expensive package with 30 features, including live tracking and door alert, advanced report, quick map, fuel monitoring system and driver late start alert. The monthly package costs Tk699 while the device costs Tk7,000.
"Many people think that the GPS only lets you know the location of a vehicle," said Samar, "What they may not know is that the device can do a lot more than that."
The additional features increase the security of the vehicle. Besides fighting theft, the device provides a client with valuable information about the vehicle that the client can use every day. For example, a tracker can include a driver behaviour feature that sends messages about the driver's behaviour to the client (owner of the vehicle).
"You can spot whether your driver is braking hard, suddenly accelerating or driving recklessly," said Samar. He also said that the company's engineers write programming scripts in the GPS device and as a result, they can customise features according to a customer's demand.
The company has many bus owner clients who monitor the locations of their buses. Sitting at home or office or on the go, they can see with their own eyes where the bus is.
Samar said that nearly one-fourth of the company's clients are rental car owners. They have to know the mileage of their vehicles and whether the driver is making an extra trip.
"The owners want to know where the vehicle has gone and how many kilometres the vehicle ran and which route it has taken," said Samar. "This information allows owners to make effective decisions."
He said that it is not like vehicle owners always need to do policing. Many times drivers forget to turn off the air conditioner of the vehicle. As a result, s/he can waste fuel. We can remind him/her to turn the AC off.
The company GPS also provides geofencing features. Geofencing allows a client to see whether his vehicle is going out of a selective area like Dhaka, or a smaller neighbourhood like Gulshan. Whenever the vehicle goes out, it will automatically send an alert to the owner.
"When you are sending your child to school, you can see, sitting at home, when your child is getting down from the car as there is a door alert with the system," said Samar. "As a result, a client can get some peace of mind."
Samar said that in most cases, the companies are using GPS tracking systems to efficiently manage their vehicles, cut overhead costs and increase profits. On the other hand, private vehicle owners are setting up GPS devices to have peace of mind.
Samar opted not to disclose AutoGuard's revenue nor its number of clients.