On November 2015, ABC News published an article positioning Carvana’s automated parking tower as the “World's First, Fully Automated Car Vending Machine”.
Although we enthusiastically celebrate and applaud Carvana’s forward-thinking spirit and their success at creating all the buzz around automated parking technology, the title of world’s first fully automated vending machine is not accurate and belongs to at least two other previous systems dating back to the 1930s and the late 1990s.
Although a foreign concept in the United States, Mechanical and Automated Parking technology dates back to the beginning of the 1900s. The first mechanical parking garage, the Garage Rue de Pothieu, was built in Paris in 1905. There are also records of Paternoster systems (the old cousin of the current Rotary machine) installed and operating in the United States in 1923 and records of over 74 “Pigeon Hole” systems operating throughout the country in the late 1950s; but let’s concentrate on the two tower-like systems that preceded Carvana’s “vending machine” concept over 80 and 20 years ago.
The Nash Glass Tower Display in Chicago, Illinois
The Nash Glass Tower Display was featured during the “Century of Progress” world fair in Chicago, Illinois in 1933.
According to The Old Motor (an entertaining & informative vintage automobile internet magazine) the display featured sixteen Nash vehicle models - eight on each side of the tower - and a showroom at the base “where visitors could view each car as it traveled on an endless loop through the display”.
The article by the Old Motor Magazine also includes a very interesting video of a fully operative Paternoster Parking System from 1930.
The AutoStadt silo-type vehicle towers in Germany
These are perhaps the true “World’s First Fully Automated Vending Machines” built in the late 1990s in the city of Wolfsburg, Germany. Each of the two silo-type towers can store up to 400 vehicles and currently “dispense” an average of 500 Volkswagen and SEAT cars to their new owners every day. The AutoStadt (German for “Car City”) towers attract around 2 million visitors every year and offer an “inside” tour where visitors experience the exact travel path that vehicles follow within the high-rise parking system.
For a taste of what it feels to be inside a silo-type “vending machine”, you may watch this 360° video. If you have a VR set, even better! This video will allow you to experience the process from the point of view of the vehicle, as it is parked and retrieved within the silo automated parking system.
The moral of this fable is how little we know about this century-old, incredibly thriving industry that has been growing and strengthening for decades in other latitudes of the world. How little we know about the safety and reliability of Automated Parking Technology and how little we know about the economic, spatial, environmental and social advantages offered by automated parking in favor of current urban and real estate development trends and demands.
ABC’s publication also cites Carvana’s tower as “the original car Vending Machine concept in Atlanta in 2013”.
Although we reiterate our belief that Carvana deserves all the recognition for developing this dealership concept in the US, the facts tell otherwise. The AutoStadt towers in Germany have been dispensing an average of 500 vehicles per day to their new owners for the last 20 years, using the same tower type automated parking technology at a much bigger scale.
If we think about it, Carvana may have been the first to acknowledge that automated parking systems are truly ideal for car dealership operations; after all, the space saving superpowers of automated parking systems would save car dealerships acres over acres of land, development, operational and maintenance costs to store that insurmountable amount of cars and to provide state-ot-the-art and innovative customer service at a much lower cost.
Automated parking garages would allow dealerships and any other parking operation whether residential, commercial, public or private to store the maximum number of cars in the most efficient use of space (sometimes up to 70% less of the land required to park the same number of cars).
Since automated parking garages do not require operators to perform parking and retrieval tasks, they offer an opportunity to significantly reduce operational, security and maintenance cost. Automated systems do not need to be illuminated nor require ventilation because there is no human access to the vehicle storage areas, making them a lot more energy-efficient and safer for people and property; in the sense that vehicles are protected from accidental damage (such as scratches or dents) caused by the mere risk of driving and are almost immune to theft or vandalism.
Another wonderful selling point of the AutoStadt towers is that the vehicles that get to the customers are truly “zero miles,” as the process of loading brand new vehicles into the towers and then dispensing them to their new owners occur without ever turning on the engines! The vehicles have never been driven, not even inside the dealership.
The valuable lesson here, however, is how long it has taken the U.S. to catch up with the times when it comes to parking technology compared to Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Carvana knows that this is the inevitable future, just as the rest of the U.S. companies dedicated to offer Automated Parking consulting and integration services and that are pioneering at creating a very fast-growing new industry in the country. Kudos to all of them!