The Automated Parking Industry - One Person's Opinion
John Van Horn, editor of Parking Today, has been a supporter of the automated industry for many years. His organization set up the first automated parking seminar two years ago, was instrumental in the founding of the Automated and Mechanical Parking Association, and has opened the Parking Industry Exhibition to the automated industry.
Don Monahan's piece on his review of Automated Parking in Korea and Japan (see page 44) points out a mature industry with a mature marketplace. There are automated garages all over the world, there is an association of manufacturers that represent the interest of the producers in the market and to the government, and public acceptance seems to be good.
That's not the case in the United States. We have a fledgling industry here. We don't have one system installing and running. (Two are in the works.) The vast majority of product comes from outside the US. The association seems to be stalled in its efforts to promote its members.
One of the installations has been fraught with problems of all kinds; the second seems to be going smoothly. However, it has yet to park its first public car in earnest. That will happened in the next few weeks. And the marketplace is holding its breath waiting for something to be installed and work.
There are literally hundreds of proposals out to developers and owners across the country, but as of this writing, only the two mentioned have "bit." There is always a reason for not proceeding.
One major issue has to do with the way automated garages are sold in the U.S. Most of the companies that promote these garages are groups that have one way or another purchased the rights to sell system made overseas. In some cases, these agreements overlap. They represent the companies who make the products, with a couple of exceptions, they don't make the products themselves.
There is bickering among the suppliers and no real focus on what needs to be done to get this technology up and running in the United States.
All of this represents an industry that is immature and is holding back the installation of this important product.
It's, sad, too, because there is a need for these types of systems. As land in central cities becomes more valuable, and hospitals and universities use up their land for classrooms and research, parking becomes more dear and the need for thinking outside the box (big concrete box) is important.
The technology works. You can get on a plane and see it working in Europe and Asia. There is no doubt about that.
It is also a reasonable solution to some (not all) parking problems. For instance:
* If you currently valet your car to go to a play in Manhattan, when you return the chances are that you will wait 20 to 40 minutes to get your car, depending on the number of people waiting. Most automated garages beat or equal that time. So in that application, it may be appropriate, and certainly the retrieval time is not an issue.
* If you live in a condo in New Jersey and simply park your car there in the evening and leave in the morning, then the retrieval time is also not an issue.
* If, however, the goal is to get as many self-park people out of a garage at the end of a show or ball game as you can, then frankly, this technology is not the way to go.
But is retrieval time the only issue? What about security -- poor in traditional garages, great in automated garages. What about cost of operation? It can be lower in automated garages, as is, in fact, the long-term cost of garage maintenance. There have been comparisons that say that the true cost (taking into consideration land cost, construction, operation and maintenance) of a garage on a per space basis is lower with an automated garage than a traditional concrete facility.
So what's the problem? Why so few new facilities in the U.S.? I think much of the problem lies at the feet of the industry itself. Its "go it alone" approach isn't working. A few companies have formed AMPA (Automated and Mechanical Parking Association) but its activities seemed to have stalled.
There is no question that a number of companies have invested a considerable amount of money marketing in this country over the past few years. Are they getting their money's worth? I think not.
I understand that the market is new and not generating any income. But for it to succeed the industry needs to take a longer view. Stop arguing over who has the right to sell what. Stop being concerned that a lead might go to someone else.
It is no surprise that the two deals that have been made have been done by in one case a U.S. manufacturer and, in the other, a relatively large elevator company representing a European firm.
The time has come for manufacturers to get off the dime and invest in this marketplace. Open offices, set up demonstrations, promote themselves, support their manufacturers' organizations. You know, act like real companies. The time has come when they can no longer rely on reps to do their work for them.