Commentary

The list of cost irritants affecting the auto industry just got longer.

Compared with their offshore-based competitors, Detroit auto makers are facing an estimated $10.7 billion premium this year to cover health-care and pension benefits for their employees.

Meanwhile, currency manipulation in Japan gives that nation’s auto exports a pricing edge that ranges from $3,000 to $9,000. And auto makers of every stripe are getting pinched by unprecedented price hikes for critical raw materials such as resin, steel and oil.

Now add parking.

“As businesses occupy more office space, parking inventory nationwide is becoming increasingly tight,” warns Ross Moore, senior vice president and director-market and economic research at Colliers International, a global real estate services company.

“This dearth of parking coupled with spiking fuel prices adds yet another headache for commuters,” Moore says.

And that’s not the worst news. Fees are up.

Over the last 12 months, a Colliers survey of 51 U.S. cities shows daily rates rose 2.9% to a median average of $15.38.

Monthly rates climbed 3.5% to $152.38. The range runs from $20 in Memphis to – brace yourself – $925 in midtown Manhattan.

For that kind of money, you’d better get free detailing. And valet service.

More likely, however, you’re paying to drive into some dank cavern where your spot is so narrow you can’t open your doors. Good thing The Feds mandated those emergency trunk releases.

Fortunately, there are other gizmos and technologies to take the sting out of paid parking.

Tight spots are, no doubt, what inspired Toyota to develop “park assist.”

Available on Lexus LS luxury sedans, the system uses sensors to determine the car’s position in relation to parked vehicles or walls or pillars. Then it projects prospective parking spots onto a dash-mounted, video-type display.

The driver sets a course for the desired spot and sits back, foot on the brake to modulate speed. The car steers itself.

If I’m paying a week’s salary just to park my car, I want everything done for me.

Of course, cheaper is not always better. You’ll only pay $50 per month in Fresno, but your car’s interior is hotter than a baker’s oven by day’s end.

BMW has an answer for this in its 3-Series convertible. It features leather that reflects heat, but not light.

So after sitting under the scorching desert sun, the seats are easy on your eyes – and your thighs.

At the other end of the thermometer, there’s Calgary. A Colliers survey of 10 Canadian cities showed monthly parking fees rose 8.1% to $197, with Calgary topping the list at $336.

Just how cold does a central Alberta parking garage get in mid-January?

Sounds like a business case for remote-starter suppliers.

FYI, don’t run out and buy a Smart Fortwo when the minicar become available next year in the U.S. No discounts for small cars, Moore says, though fullsize SUV owners are sometimes hit with premiums.

City parking is no walk in the park.

emayne@wardsauto.com