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SpotHero beat ParkWhiz to the phone in the first round of the mobile-parking battle. Now, in the latest round, ParkWhiz CEO Yona Shtern is turning his attention to the vehicle itself, betting that consumers will use their voices and web-connected car info-tainment systems to find and purchase parking.

ParkWhiz is working with Amazon and its Alexa voice-driven digital assistant to allow users to book parking. A few years ago, it teamed up with Ford, which also partnered with Alexa, to be part of the automaker’s FordPass mobile app for use in its vehicles. ParkWhiz also is working with Hyundai and previously teamed up with Visa and Honda in an experiment to allow drivers to make in-car purchases. The company also partnered with TomTom to provide parking capability in its digital map service.

“When we started as a consumer brand, we built a marketplace, and the assumption was the primary access point for consumers was going to be a mobile app,” says Shtern, who became CEO in March. “Is the future in a mobile app, or will vehicles and navigation systems do it for them? We don’t think the future of parking is downloading an app.”

SpotHero CEO Mark Lawrence remains bullish on the smartphone. But his company, which is larger and more focused on the consumer business than ParkWhiz, also has begun dabbling in the connected car arena. It partnered with Inrix, a provider of parking information to several automakers, and it’s working with two undisclosed car companies. SpotHero teamed up with Google on its Android Auto platform, which includes search, voice capability and payments. And it has partnered with Hertz to allow rental customers to book parking.

“I think the phone is going to be the dominant platform for some time,” Lawrence says. “Do I believe car is going to be dominant at some point? It doesn’t matter because we’re in both.”

Just over a decade ago, the smartphone brought a massive change to the way consumers shop, allowing them to find and buy everything from music to parking on the go. In the next decade, some of that commerce could move into the vehicle itself. Already there has been a flurry of speed dating among automakers; technology giants Apple, Google and Amazon; payments companies and other vendors as they attempt to come up with a workable solution that includes connectivity, location, payments and voice capabilities.

CONNECTED VEHICLES REVVING UP

Research firm Gartner predicts the number of mobile- or web-connected vehicles will more than double to 255 million by 2020. Juniper Research forecasts 8.2 billion connected car transactions and $265 billion in spending by 2023.

“There’s a big move to try to do transactions in the car,” says Mike Ramsey, a Gartner research director for automotive and smart mobility who is based in Detroit. “What transactions are better through the car than your phone? Parking is one of those if it’s integrated in your navigation system.”

But he adds: “I don’t think it’s going to happen very quickly. There are a lot of commercial partnerships that have to happen first. This is the kind of service that will be available in a handful of cars, then a few more each new model year, and roll in over the next five years.”

Digital mapping company Here, which includes the former Chicago-based Navteq, also is betting on mobile commerce as an important part of the connected car, which is a key stop along the way toward fully autonomous vehicles that can drive themselves. Parking will be one of the important ingredients of what Alex Mangan, director of product marketing at Here in Chicago, calls seamless mobility. “The car knows where I want to go, then goes and parks itself. That’s the end goal.”

When it becomes a reality is anyone’s guess, but SpotHero and ParkWhiz are likely to have a role. The two Chicago-based companies recently have raised more funding, which should buy them time. “What they bring to the table is important content. They created a piece of the market and created demand,” Mangan says. “They sit on an asset that hasn’t been created elsewhere.”

Shtern isn’t wasting time trying to monetize it. ParkWhiz is relying heavily on partners, from TicketMaster to Ford. “Two years ago (distribution through partners) was 5 percent of our business. We expect it to be 40 percent of our business this year. It’s where all our growth is coming from.”

For now, he’ll continue circling the emerging connected car opportunity, looking for the spot he’s sure will open up.

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