EUROPE - Insurer Fortis is in exclusive talks with French firm Vinci to pool the firms' European carpark assets in a joint venture.

The partners have not revealed the likely value of the deal, but Interparking, a Fortis subsidiary, is in exclusive talks with Vinci to create a new entity to manage 1,800 car parks in 16 countries.

Vinci's assets are concentrated in France, the UK, Spain and North America while Fortis has a presence in Benelux, Spain, Germany, Austria and Italy.

"We're in the first stage of negotiations. It isn't a straightforward sale," said Fortis spokeswoman Liliane Tackaert.

"It's too soon to say how much the assets will be worth. Vinci will contribute the predominant share of the assets, but ours will be substantial."

Car parks make up a relatively small fraction of Fortis's non-financial portfolio.

"Part of our investment is in the real estate sector and we've been looking to diversify that investment," said Tackaert.

"We decided that joining forces would help us do that quickly and more effectively. For us, real estate isn't core.  It's a small part of our business, but we want it to be a dynamic one. This is an opportunity to create value and grow it further."

The deal is expected to close in Q3 but also comes on the back of recent consolidation in the sector. Macquarie's European Infrastructure Fund II last year acquired UK firm's National Car Park's off-street, airport and railway car park businesses for £790m (€1,035.5m).

Officials behind a central European fund, launched last year by 3E Car Park Investors, claimed there was investment traction "anywhere where there has been an increase in wealth and a shift in the car population".

However, Mike Wilson, managing director of infrastructure finance ratings at Standard & Poor, has cited car parks as being among "quasi infrastructure" assets which he believes are being acquired via questionable "high debt multiples".