Having recently returned from the biggest Car Wash Show in 10 years, where both exhibitors and attendees expressed not merely satisfaction but actual delight with the turnout, the educational sessions, and the activity on the tradeshow floor, there is reason to feel bullish about business. In fact, there was some sense of optimism to be detected as far back as December last year.

For example, as a panelist in the Auto Laundry News annual Executive Forecast feature (December 2015), Bruce Arnett, Jr., CEO/president of Carnetts Management Company LLC, DBA Mr. Clean Carwash, noted that 2015 would be the sixth straight year in which new-car sales in the United States grew since hitting a 27-year low of 10.4 million units in 2009. This is important to car washers because of the well-accepted positive correlation between new-car sales and car counts at the wash. Arnett went further, predicting that 2015 would break sales records and adding that he expects 2016 to be even better.

That was the right call. According to Autonews.com, carmakers moved 17,470,659 new cars and pickups in 2015 — “more than in any year since the automobile was invented,” enthused Car and Driver magazine. That topped the old record of 17,402,486 units set in 2000 and reached beyond the 2014 sales figures by 5.7 percent. In addition, average transaction prices have also increased, and analysts attribute this to more than just creeping sticker prices. Rather, they believe, this signals a shift in demand to more expensive, more luxurious vehicles. This augurs well for the car care industry. The more consumers have invested in their vehicles the more likely they are to maintain them. Autonews.com reports that pickups, SUVs, and crossovers led sales with a 13 percent increase in 2015 while demand for cars lagged, falling by 2.3 percent for the year.

A new report from TD Economics, an affiliate of TD Auto Finance and TD Bank, foresees auto sales extending their winning streak this year, reaching another record high before moderating in 2017. Crediting a strong economic backdrop and favorable financing terms, TD projects U.S. auto sales will top out at 17.6 million units for 2016. The report notes other advantageous conditions that encourage auto sales including lower gas prices, declining unemployment rate, and recovery of the housing market.

For the longer view, TD is more restrained, still looking for healthy sales in 2017, but not forecasting any new records. The report expects sales to fall back some to the 17.3 level next year, settling at 17 million for a while before moving down to the 16-million-unit range. TD ascribes this anticipated drop to pent-up demand being absorbed, consumers holding on to their vehicles longer, competition from the used-car market, and the emergence of car-sharing services.

Every market can experience disruption and, when it occurs, everything can change. While the report takes note of changes in lifestyle choices — resulting, for example, in declining vehicle ownership — it regards the development of autonomous cars as “one of the largest disruptors in decades.” It expects this yet unregulated area to pose additional complexities for the automotive market. The connected car is identified as a positive disruptor: Staying connected at all times has become a way of life for many consumers, especially for Millennials. Catering to this predilection may well forestall the predicted disinterest among young people in vehicle ownership.