High-tech car parks are around the corner

Sales of electric and hybrid vehicles are soaring, driverless cars are being trialed, and people are becoming more comfortable with digital ...

July 11, 2016

Sales of electric and hybrid vehicles are growing exponentially, driverless cars are being trialled, and people are becoming ever more comfortable with digital technology such as contactless payments and mobile apps.

These factors combined are bringing opportunities to car park owners, and retailers, in this little-understood and fast-changing real estate sector.

In the UK sales of new hybrid and electric cars climbed by more than a third in the year to November 2017 and accounted for just over 5 percent of all new car sales, significantly up from 2.1 percent in 2014. Their continuing growth has big implications for car parks across the country.

Paul Gallagher, a consultant in JLL’s alternative property team, says: “As this trend continues, car parks offering charging for electric vehicles will become destination car parks and those without charging facilities will become more unattractive. Current thinking is that, to future-proof a car park, ten percent of spaces should be EV-chargeable.”

“This may seem like a big investment, but statistical evidence shows that electric and hybrid drivers park for longer because they want to make sure their vehicles are charged up enough to reach their next destination. So this cost could be offset by drivers spending money in the adjacent mall.”

Already new ways of charging vehicles in car parks are being investigated. Gallagher explains: “I’ve seen a solar canopy which charges vehicles while they’re parked under it. Another works like an electric toothbrush charger: you park on a pad and the charge is taken without a wire.”

The cashless carpark

With payment methods becoming increasingly digitized, data-gathering opportunities abound. As soon as drivers secure a parking space via an app on their phone, information about them and where they’re going can be taken – before they even leave the house.

“The wholly-cashless car park is the latest evolution of parking, but its take-up varies from country to country and location to location. Sometimes the age of the local population is a factor as to whether it’s introduced yet,” says Gallagher.

“But pressure is coming from the payment card industry. It is promoting contactless and is keen to phase out chip and pin for parking. As tech solutions, such as Parkopedia, are built into new vehicles by the automotive industry, the parking experience will become even more seamless for the driver. Not only can you pay for the nearest or cheapest parking, you can be directed to it as well.”

Promoting retail spend

Already standard in the Asia-Pacific region, automatic number plate-recognition systems connected to pre-paid parking methods, and sometimes to loyalty cards, are becoming more common in Europe.

Gallagher says: “The shopper is recognised by number plates when entering the car park so the barrier lifts; spending habits are known from a loyalty card and as the shopper gets out of his car, targeted offers are pinged to their mobile phone. Drivers love it because they don’t even have to lower the window.”

Retailers are also fans because it enables them to forward sell before their customers have even set foot in the mall. “I think retailers – especially those in shopping centres with parking attached – need to remember that the retail experience begins when the shoppers park their car,” Gallagher adds.

Driverless cars, meanwhile, are likely to significantly increase the demand for car parks. “They’ll be a bit like driverless taxis,” says Gallagher. “Users will summon them by apps for specific journeys. But the rest of the time, the cars will live in urban car parks where they can charge up – because they too will be electric.”

An increasing number of urban households could give up their car. In the U.S, Uber and Parkmerced, San Francisco’s largest multifamily community, have partnered to create a first-of-its-kind program that will pay tenants to go car-free.

However, as people continue to flock to cities and need somewhere to live, land is becoming ever more valuable and cities need to strike a balance between housing and infrastructure. “Car parks are often big chunks of real estate in city centres so they intrinsically have a value as development sites,” says Gallagher.

“Some of London’s central sites are being snapped up at some eye-watering figures, all because of the price of land. So the ways in which car parks are being overhauled and bringing value really does depend on where they are.”

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