When the Lexus LS 460 was unveiled at Detroit's North American International Auto Show in 2006, the vehicle and its ability to parallel park itself was a novel concept that became the buzz of the show.
Self Parking System and Intelligent Park Assist
It was the first time consumers and media had seen a self-parking car offered in North America.
The systems in all three vehicles function pretty much the same. Computer-controlled sensors find open parking spaces based on their estimation of the proximity of other vehicles. Once an open space is detected, it directs the vehicle's steering wheel to parallel park the car. The driver controls the speed of the car via the gas and brake pedals; the maneuvering of the vehicle into the parking space is done by the car itself. Self-parking systems are marketed toward "early-adopter techie buyers," says Douglas Coleman, a Prius product manager.
Out of the three cars we tested, the "Intelligent Park Assist" option in the Toyota Prius was the most elaborate, offering both parallel and back-in parking, where the car can back itself into a parking lot space. The vehicle's computer calculates the best parallel- or reverse-parking steering angles and displays an image of the best parking spot on a touch screen on the dashboard. Once the driver hits "OK" to select the spot, the computer sends a signal to the electric steering system and navigates the car into the space.
The BMW 5-Series and the Ford Escape operate similarly, but the since the BMW is designed primarily for European countries that have no designated parking spots in lots, the company focused on developing a parallel parking system only, according to BMW spokesman Tom Plucinsky.
The Ford Escape's system automatically picks a parking spot without needing extra authorization from the driver. If the driver wants to park in a identified spot, he just presses the gas pedal and applies the brakes as needed until the car is parked.
they often won't work if anything other than two ideally parked cars with adequate space between them are detected. In New York City, where cars need to be parked quickly and efficiently, and pedestrians and piles of trash line the streets, the need for perfect circumstances make it nearly impossible to rely on the self-parking system.
The systems' sensitivity may be a good thing, though, says Karl Brauer, editor-in-chief of online autos resource Edmunds.com. "The systems eliminate the minor but constant damages that occur when people bang into things [when parking]," he said. "This could be a cost savings because you are not having to pay for body repairs."
From a market standpoint, the self-parking systems are poised to become more popular, Mr. Brauer said. "Car companies are looking for ways to distinguish themselves from competitors and it's getting harder and harder to do that on traditional points like safety and reliability," he said.