Mobility Disruptors | Automated Parking—Waiting for the Breakthrough 

March 13, 2019

By Fabian Chowanetz

One of the perks of working in the automotive industry is to experience and test the latest vehicle technology before it is available to most consumers. Driving the very latest SUV from a well-known manufacturer for an overnight test a couple of years ago, it was the first time I had a car park itself into a tiny spot I would never have previously considered—all via the push of a button. How convenient for people living in a city, trying to cram into the last tiny parking space left on the street after circling the block for half an hour. Now, if we only could spare the searching and just get out at the front door!

From the development of automated parking valet prototypes a couple of years ago to recent public test drives, it seems we are just a few steps away from having our vehicles park themselves. Handing the process of finding a parking spot over to the vehicle—allowing driver and passenger to exit at the desired destination and the vehicle parks itself - will be the breakthrough capability that takes today’s automatic parking to the next level and provides a new, unique benefit—a fully automated parking valet.

As with many future technologies, J.D. Power has been asking the question, “Are consumers ready?” Automated parking valet is a technology that has a little brother, automatic parking, that consumers are experiencing today. The difference is the level of vehicle automation and the level of driver engagement. If little brother doesn’t play nice, no one will want to hang around to play with big brother.

To explain, automatic parking is available today and helps guide the vehicle into a parallel or perpendicular parking spot after finding a viable option. Systems range in capability from needing some minor driver intervention for gear shifts and/or braking to the driver fully resigning control to the vehicle and taking a just-in-case role. It is theoretically a nice option, especially for those challenged by parallel parking.

Surprisingly, a high proportion of consumers ignore this technology even though they know they have it. The J.D. Power 2018 U.S. Tech Experience Index Study (TXI)SM reveals that more than half of respondents say they either have never even tried to use it (47%) or don’t use it anymore (8%).

Usage Frequency of Automatic Parking System

When asked why they never did or no longer use the feature, more than one-third state they “do not need it” while 28% “don’t know how to use” the feature.

Top Reasons for Never Using Automatic Parking System

If consumers can’t perceive any benefits or don’t even get to the point of experiencing the technology, adoption will languish both for this level of automatic parking technology and most likely, for future versions, including automated parking valet.

What can automakers do to influence a breakthrough? Their dealers need to explain and effectively demonstrate automatic parking. One respondent in the J.D. Power 2018 TXI study succinctly stated, “It's just startling at first how it works...The instructions are clear on the dashboard when you get up the guts to try it. Dealer should have demonstrated this feature for me!” Per TXI, only half of respondents learned the operation of the automatic parking feature through dealer interaction. Many people try to learn the system on their own or rely on manuals or third-party content as they stumble through understanding the feature. But convincing consumers takes more than just explaining the feature. Automated parking systems must be designed to make driver’s lives easier. The feature can’t overcharge driver’s capabilities and must be easy to engage and use. Today’s consumer feedback shows this is not the case yet. Aligning the product to consumer requirements early in the development process is the key strategy advocated and supported by J.D. Power Advisory Services.

With many consumers refusing to adopt the technology or struggling with it, any problems or confusion will negatively influence trust in future automated driving technology. If consumers are not convinced that their current vehicle is able to park itself, how can they be ready to trust their next one to drive itself?

As alternative modes of transport continue to create huge uncertainty for automakers and others, the need to understand how consumers want to travel now and, in the future, becomes critically important. In this fast-changing environment, J.D. Power is committed to providing automakers and other industry participants with critical consumer insights that will help them to develop a market-focused program for automation.

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