In his article, “Car Wash M&A – Choppy Seas Ahead,” starting on page 46 in this issue, George Odden declares that the fun part of writing the article is predicting what the future holds. While some might see what he offers as a dire prediction, Odden says, he sees it as the beginning of a new pattern and new opportunities.

            Odden was not the only one having fun. Over at, Peter Maithel offered his top five predictions for 2023 in the automotive industry. Maithel is automotive industry principal at Infor, a cloud-based business software provider for a number of industries, including automobile manufacturing.

            What Maithel foresees certainly looks like a new pattern and possibly new opportunities. Most of his predictions relate to electric vehicles (EVs) and the challenges presented by their fuel source and, because of these challenges, the need to consider and pursue alternative fuel sources.

            However, just about every business everywhere can relate to his first prediction: supply chain challenges will continue. Car washes are not exempt. The industry has been dealing with these challenges for some time. Our latest Full/Flex-Service Survey found that 67 percent of full-service participants were negatively impacted by supply chain disruptions in 2022; 75 percent of flex-service respondents reported that they, too, were negatively affected (the full survey report starts on page 31 in this issue). Even detailers could not escape the long reach of these disruptions. Our most recent Detail Survey (see the January 2023 issue) found that, overall, 64 percent of detail operations had their expectations dashed. At 73 percent, freestanding shops were more likely than car wash combos, at 43 percent, to experience supply-chain disappointments. As for the auto manufacturers, Maithel sees a continuing chip shortage as a particular problem that could affect 2 million to 3 million vehicles in 2023. And as EVs use nearly a third more chips than cars with internal combustion engines, they will feel the impact all the more.

            The second prediction: battery material supply will challenge EV manufacturers. It appears there is not an adequate supply of raw materials like lithium, nickel, and cobalt that go into building EV batteries to meet the anticipated demand, and it could take up to 10 years to develop new sources. Which brings us to prediction number three: alternative fuel sources will become increasingly important in the energy conversation. Well, not too long ago, electricity was the alternative fuel source. Already we are looking for an alternative to the alternative? Given the challenges EV batteries face, Maithel sees this as inevitable, and points to Hydrogen fuel cells as the most likely candidate. Lack of refueling infrastructure is a major drawback, but the benefits are compelling: high energy density, quick refueling times, and a substantial weight advantage over EV batteries. In commercial settings they lend themselves well to retrofitting existing fleets as many powertrain components are interchangeable.

            The fourth prediction heaps even more woes on the EV battery, this time regarding recycling and disposal: battery recycling will be a growing challenge. Maithel points out that it is estimated that 10 million batteries will reach the end of their vehicle life by 2030. The number speaks for itself. The fifth and final prediction covers a subject we looked at in last month’s column: in-vehicle software will play an ever-increasing role in defining and upgrading vehicle capabilities and options.

            There’s that new pattern: a cautious note for the gung-ho EV enthusiasts and possible new opportunities for the proponents of Hydrogen fuel cells.