Bryan Pope


Last year, the Texas A&M University System announced plans for a $150 million ​​research campus here in Bryan-College Station. ​While a wide array of new technologies will be explored at the campus, the one that caught my attention was autonomous (driverless) vehicles.​

Until now, my knowledge of autonomous vehicles (AV) was strictly limited to “Johnny Cab” from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Total Recall and the self-driving cars in Minority Report. Also, Disney’s The Love Bug, but I’m not sure that counts.

Turns out, the concept dates back at least as far as the 1939 World’s Fair, where Norman Bel Geddes’ Futurama exhibit promoted advances in transportation, including aspects of AV technology.

​​​But enough about history. How could AV technology affect real estate markets? Transwestern suggests some possibilities in its new report, The New Industry Driver: How the Rise of Autonomous Vehicles Could Impact Future Real Estate Strategy​.

​The report posits that AVs would cause a decrease in car ownership (by as much as 80 percent by 2030, according to one study). If so, Transwestern says the demand for parking across the U.S. may decrease 70 to 90 percent, cutting the need for parking spaces by approximately 60 billion sf.

Assuming widespread AV adoption, office owners and developers may have to rethink how they use parking, whether it is an adjacent parking structure or an underground garage. Transwestern says parking revenue averages 10 percent of a central business district office building’s gross revenue.

The rise of AVs also may add another pawn in the amenities war, the report says. “Features such as curbside pickup and ride-share lobbies could become more prevalent as building tenants and visitors increasingly demand them as next-generation Class A office conveniences.”

Transwestern says the industrial sector could be disrupted most by AV technology.

“With approximately 70 percent of goods delivered via long-haul commercial trucks (a percentage that is expected to widen in the future), the introduction of autonomous long-haul trucks would be a welcomed addition to an industry ​struggling from a shortage of drivers. There was an estimated deficit of 48,000 truck drivers in the U.S. in 2015, and this problem is only getting worse.”

What about retail?

“Retail properties that could be affected by greater adoption of AVs include auto repair facilities, car dealerships, and the nearly 154,000 gas stations nationwide,” according to Transwestern. “Auto car dealerships and auto repair shops may disappear as we know them if private car ownership decreases. Gas stations, which typically occupy locations at highly visible intersections, could be converted to autonomous charging stations as electric vehicles are forecasted to surpass gas-powered vehicles by 2040.”​

On a personal note, I welcome AV technology. Outside of The Terminator movies or HAL in 2001, it’s hard for me to imagine a computer developing a bad case of road rage.

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