Relative economic distance depends on the supply and demand for products and services. For example, in dense urban areas, people usually don’t have to drive more than a few miles to purchase gasoline because competing convenience stores tend to be located very close to each other. Conversely, in rural areas, people may have to drive a half hour or more to purchase gasoline because such locations are few and far between.

Competition also has structural components.

Waymo AV service center

Decades ago, the competition could be simply described as conveyors (exterior-only, full-service), self-service (wand bays), and car washes at gas sites (in-bay automatics).

Today, competition comes in many different forms. This includes combination sites, in-bay investor sites, mobile wash, express exterior, flex-serve, washes at hypermarket, water-less, and digital networks.

The latter is a form of competition coming from outside the car wash industry. For example, Everwash, Superoperator, etc. are third-party software companies that provide integration platforms to cut friction from the customer experience.

Consequently, small family-owned businesses are not only competing against the next guy down the street but also a large network of stores that offer convenient locations, a customer app, mobile payment, and subscription memberships.

In many cases, car dealerships have gone from being a source of business for local car wash operators to competing for their business.

Consider Ford Motor Company’s FordPass, Built to Keep You Moving™, which is described as the app that puts your ownership experience right in the palm of your hand.

FordPass provides modem equipped vehicles with access to an impressive array of features. These include connect and control, vehicle details, roadside assistance, loyalty rewards, Ford credit, vehicle locator, and experience collection. The latter currently includes on-demand mobile car wash services provided by Spiffy and Sparkl.

Arguably, this would complement dealerships that also provide an automatic car wash for their customers in-house.

In the near future, car washers will also be competing directly against the car makers. For example, as the fleet continues to move towards autonomous driving, sensor or camera technology used to detect other vehicles must be able to see any exterior paint system applied.

Consequently, all vehicles will need a coating with easy-to-clean or dirt-resistant properties to keep exterior surfaces clean and sensor lenses clear even in the dirtiest of environments. Such coating would be factory applied and such properties would be imbedded in the paint or permanent.

For now, companies such as PPG are pioneering the development of paints and related coatings that will improve vehicle and infrastructure visibility to sensors. PPG is also creating easy-clean coatings that allow dirt and water to efficiently wash away and anti-fingerprint coatings for interior displays.

Autonomous driving also promises less personal vehicle ownership and demand for remote service centers to maintain fleet vehicles 24/7.

Here, critics of autonomous vehicles (AVs) often point out the issue of how and who will ensure that AVs are clean and suitable for the next user. For example, people sometimes get sick in cars or maybe they will leave trash behind or maybe they will smoke something. Whatever the case, AV’s will need some level of maintenance service such as rental cars receive in between customers.

Bob Roman is president of RJR Enterprises — Consulting Services ( You can reach Bob via e-mail at