ARKANSAS, Oct 3 (Future Headlines)- The automotive landscape is rapidly evolving, with electric vehicles (EVs) becoming increasingly common worldwide, alongside the growing trend of larger and heavier vehicles. While this shift brings environmental benefits and innovations, it also poses challenges for infrastructure, particularly in parking garages.

The average weight of vehicles has significantly increased over the years. From an average of 1.5 metric tons in 1974, vehicles have grown to nearly 2 metric tons in 2023. This trend is attributed to the introduction of electric and hybrid batteries, as well as the overall increase in vehicle size.

In recent years, top-end executive cars, long-range SUVs, and pickup trucks have emerged, some of which weigh over three metric tons. While vehicles heavier than those from four decades ago are now more common, they typically remain within the capacity limits of designed parking structures.

The popularity of larger vehicles, including SUVs and executive cars, shows no signs of diminishing. This trend is further compounded by the introduction of heavy battery-powered and hybrid vehicles, adding cumulative weight to parking garages.

The increase in vehicle size and weight poses structural and safety challenges for parking garages. The potential collapse of parking garages under the weight of heavier vehicles has raised concerns. While vehicles that are simply heavier than their historical counterparts are generally manageable, the cumulative load of heavy vehicles like SUVs and pickup trucks can strain parking structures.

Structural engineers are now emphasizing the importance of assessing parking garages to ensure their strength and integrity. Weak structures may require strengthening in specific areas to accommodate heavier vehicles safely. In some cases, screening vehicles before entry to parking garages or allocating heavier vehicles to ground floors can be considered as cost-effective measures to manage weight-related challenges.

Fire safety is another significant concern, particularly for EVs. While EV fires are not common, extinguishing them, especially when the battery is involved, can be exceptionally challenging due to the energy stored. Sprinkler systems are proposed as a key solution to mitigate fire risks in parking garages, particularly in underground facilities. Sprinkler systems can suppress the spread of fire within the garage, offering valuable time for fire services to arrive and control the situation.

Balancing safety considerations with sustainability goals is crucial. EVs contribute to reducing carbon emissions, which is essential for combating climate change. Ensuring that parking garages are safe for EVs and their drivers is essential to promote electric mobility.

In February 2023, the European Commission launched a task force focused on the “fire safe deployment of recharging points in covered parking garages.” Co-led by AVERE, The European Association for Electromobility, this task force aims to create guidelines for the safe installation of EV charging points in parking garages while maintaining fire safety.

Balancing fire safety and accommodating larger vehicles, including electric ones, is a key challenge in parking infrastructure. This requires a multi-stakeholder approach involving parking operators, firefighters, EV industry representatives, insurers, and charging point manufacturers to collaboratively develop guidelines. Additionally, adapting existing parking structures to meet safety standards without incurring excessive costs is a crucial aspect of this effort.

The evolution of the automotive industry towards EVs and larger vehicles presents both opportunities and challenges for parking infrastructure. While structural engineers and experts recognize the importance of adapting parking garages to accommodate these changes, they emphasize that these initiatives are not intended to be “anti-EV.” Instead, they aim to facilitate the smooth integration of EVs and larger vehicles while ensuring public safety and structural integrity.

As the world embraces electric mobility, it becomes imperative to address the complex interplay of vehicle design, infrastructure adaptation, and safety measures. By doing so, we can ensure that parking facilities evolve alongside the automotive industry, fostering a safe and sustainable future for transportation and urban planning. Initiatives at both the national and European levels are aimed at finding innovative solutions to ensure the smooth integration of EVs and larger vehicles into parking facilities, promoting sustainable and safe transportation in urban environments.

Reporting by Alireza Sabet; Editing by Sarah White