Executive Forecast is a feature that we traditionally run in the December issue. This year, we invited executives from the equipment, chemical, and association communities to share their insights on what the future might hold for the car wash industry (see page 18 in this issue). We asked our panel to comment on the economy, investors, market saturation, and other issues they deem important.

It is, of course, not possible to divine the future with any certainty. It is, however, necessary for every industry to look ahead and try as best it can to figure out what might be in store so that participants can prepare for any changes or developments in the market, technology, demographics, and the myriad other variables that affect the way we do business.

In Michigan, the private sector has teamed up with government in commissioning the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) to develop a report titled Future Cities: Navigating the New Era of Mobility. The report, released at the end of October, considers autonomous vehicle technology and innovative mobility services and how their development affects communities.

More narrowly, these same developments affect the car care industry. Just last month, the International Carwash Association launched its vehicle technology portal at vehicles.carwash.org, an excellent tool to learn how to disengage and re-engage the various automated systems in newer vehicles that have caused such difficulties in the wash tunnel. These descriptive instructions are accompanied by illustrations to eliminate as much guesswork as possible.

The Future Cities study is also relevant to the car wash industry in other respects. For example, under innovative mobility services, the study includes ridesharing, car sharing, bike sharing, and ride hailing, all of which affect the number of vehicles on the road and vehicle miles traveled (VMT), two numbers of interest to car washers. For example, according to the study almost a third of mobility service users drive less than before they started using these services, which tends to reduce VMT. It is the younger set that is responsible for this trend: 28 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have used ride hailing while only 4 percent of the over-65 crowd have done so.

The report refers to one study that found privately owned autonomous cars could increase overall VMT anywhere from 5 percent to 19.6 percent. Factors that contribute to shared autonomous cars increasing VMT include reduced trip chaining, shift away from mass transit, sprawling development patterns, remote parking locations, increased mobility of non-drivers, and zero-occupancy VMT (vehicles driving without passengers after dropping one off and before picking up the next one).

The Future Cities study is, of course, concerned with all manner of issues that are irrelevant to car washing. Still, it offers a rosy picture of tomorrow’s mobility regardless of the industry readers happen to be involved in. Mobility services, it says, can potentially improve societal issues: safety and security via reduced crashes; efficient mobility through mitigation of road congestion, increased mobility for seniors, minors, disabled, and low-income residents; and sustainability via reduced vehicle emissions and parking demand.

Exactly how automated vehicles and mobility services will affect traffic patterns and VMT in the future is impossible to say with certainty. These developments are real, however, and will become an ever-greater presence. We’ll need to accommodate them in both our personal and business plans.