Now that most infotainment systems have real-time traffic guidance apps, the next big thing is the search for a parking space.
A bevy of startups have developed apps that enable motorists to find and reserve parking spots at their destinations -- typically in major cities such as New York, London or San Francisco.
Daimler, BMW, Audi and Renault-Nissan have added parking apps to their infotainment systems, and BMW has even invested in a startup.
The German automakers are positioning themselves as providers of a portfolio of transportation services, says Praveen Chandrasekar, a telematics analyst with the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.
"Every motorist needs three things: traffic guidance, parking and gasoline prices," Chandrasekar said. "This is the same for an Audi owner, a Ford owner or a Nissan owner."
Parking apps typically provide a motorist with a list of possible parking locations, and the motorist can reserve a spot.
Some apps also guide the driver to an open parking spot on city streets. With the approval of city government, the parking service installs curbside sensors to monitor the availability of those spaces.
BMW appears to be one of the more aggressive promoters of "total transportation." In 2011, the German automaker launched i Ventures, with plans to invest $100 million in mobile technologies.
That same year, BMW invested in ParkatmyHouse.com, a U.K. Web site that allows motorists to rent out their home driveways to other motorists. The next year, BMW formed a joint venture to back ParkNow, a service that offers parking spaces in San Francisco.
And in June of this year, BMW said it had added Parkopedia to its infotainment portfolio. Parkopedia boasts that it has links to 26,000 parking facilities in North America.
"BMW is trying to make a statement," Chandrasekar said. "Parking is one of the most crucial services."
It's no accident that BMW is expanding its transportation services as it prepares to start selling the i3 electric car in the United States in April.
Like any electric car, the i3's limited range requires motorists to plan their day trips carefully. An EV owner is likely to view ride-sharing and reserved parking -- especially if those parking spots have vehicle chargers -- as useful perks.
As Chandrasekar noted, BMW isn't the only automaker thinking along these lines.
In December, Mercedes-Benz acquired a minority stake in GottaPark Inc., a San Francisco-based service that offers access to 300,000 parking spots in San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, Denver, Houston, Boston, Chicago, Miami and Vancouver.
Chandrasekar expects mass-market automakers to add parking services to their telematics menus. "This is definitely going to spread," he said. "You will very quickly see it ramp up among the automakers."
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