L.A. Auto Show: Need a parking space? Check your console

Parking restrictions can be a headache in Los Angeles, but new technology that allows drivers to reserve and even pay for parking in advance from inside their cars is a promising advancement.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

As a growing number of cars connect directly to mobile broadband networks, car makers are searching for apps that make use of that data connection.

One type of app that technology analysts see great potential in is something that can help drivers locate and pay for parking. But few car makers have managed to deliver a useful tool to U.S. drivers yet.

Daimler has tested concepts in Germany and invested in GottaPark, a San Francisco parking locator app. There are plans, but no timetable, to bring GottaPark in-car. BMW is behind a start-up as well, ParkNow, and has a deal to get data from Parkopedia.

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Mercedes-Benz has a vacant parking spot locator in European models. U.S. vehicles with the mbrace technology package don’t have anything similar. Same goes for Toyota’s Lexus brand, which has a parking locator in the 2013 IS model available in Europe.

The most extensive offering in the U.S. is from Audi, which has teamed with Santa Monica start-up ParkMe. The in-car ParkMe app, available in more than 100,000 Audi vehicles with Connect, finds available parking spots. Unlike the smartphone app, the car app doesn’t accept reservations or payment.

“It’s a pure Audi road-map issue,” ParkMe Chief Executive Sam Friedman said of the limited functionality. “Audi just needs to make that business decision, and we can set that up pretty quickly.”

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Audi doesn’t give the company any statistics about how the app is being used. But Friedman said the goal is for it to simply become available in as many cars as possible, and he expects to announce deals with more auto manufacturers by the middle of next year. ParkMe provides the data, and computer programmers for the car companies build the apps.

“It just comes down to how much they are willing to pay and roadmapping it,” Friedman said

Through its website, ParkMe is accepting parking reservations for private lots near the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Thilo Koslowski, a car technology analyst for Gartner, called parking apps one of the “no-brainers” that manufacturers must develop to live up to the information part of in-car “infotainment” screens.

“Sophisticated apps that will allow me to reserve and pay from the vehicle or pay for gas through the vehicle -- those are the things I see as being important,” Koslowski said. “It’s not about browsing information on the Internet. It’s about Internet snacking, bits and pieces that enhance either the driving or ownership experience.”