Technology runs our lives and businesses. Staying current on tech trends

and planning for their seamless implementation when they become widespread separates industry leaders from followers.

            Below we look at some of the technology grabbing headlines today and explore what they mean for car care operators now and in the future.

Digital Networks

            Reportedly, the world’s first digital car wash network, Juhlapesu, was founded in 2012 in Finland. Today, there are several digital networks to join and third-party firms with software platforms to provide operators with customized apps.

            For example, Everwash has 800-plus locations in 700 cities, washing about 17 million cars yearly. Superoperator reports it is washing more than 1.5 million cars a month. Touch4Wash also has locations throughout the country. There is also a growing digital network of mobile on-demand operations such as Washos, Washe, Ridley, MobileWash, etc.

            Arguably, given the popularity of subscription programs and mobile payment, we might expect further expansion of the digital car wash network.

Autonomous Vehicles

            Self-driving cars promise improved road safety, decreased traffic congestion, more accessibility, and reduced human-related accidents. Car wash operators may envision self-driving cars coming to the store at all hours of the day, every day.

            According to the NHTSA, car makers have submitted 419 autono-mous vehicle crash reports as of January 15, 2023 — 156 of those accidents have been in autonomous, automated driving systems (ADS)-equipped vehicles. Across the 419 crashes, NHTSA recorded 18 fatalities. All deaths were Level 2 ADS cars. No carmaker has reported any fatalities due to a fully autonomous vehicle.

            However, NHTSA lists 19 accidents in ADS vehicles in which injury level was recorded as “unknown.” NHTSA also does not require car makers to report whether the accident was caused by malfunction or user error.

            Recently, Tesla has come under the microscope as 11 people were killed in U.S. crashes involving vehicles using automated driving systems during a four-month period this year. Tesla vehicles were involved in 10 of the deaths.

            In 2022, a AAA survey found that 55 percent of respondents were “afraid” of self-driving cars, 30 percent were “unsure,” and 15 percent “trust” fully autonomous vehicles. In 2023, the number of people “afraid” of self-driving cars jumped to 68 percent, 23 percent were “unsure,” and just 9 percent “trust” the technology.

            Arguably, it will be some time before self-driving cars become a Golden Fleece for the car wash industry.

Electric Vehicles

            The promise of electric vehicles is to reduce environmental and economic risks. According to Cox Automotive, more than half of consumers surveyed are considering either a new or used EV, up from 38 percent in 2021. However, EVs only accounted for less than 8 percent of total new vehicle sales in 2023. Cox attributes the gap that exists between consumer sentiment and vehicle sales to affordability and lack of charging stations.

            According to Edmunds, the lowest-priced EV is a compact car, the 2023 Chevrolet Bolt starting at $26,500 with a 259-mile charging range. Luxury EVs such as Tesla Model X and Mercedes-Benz EQS start at around $100,000.

            In 2022, the Tesla Model Y became the best-selling battery-electric car model in the U.S. at 243,800 units. MSRP in 2023 is $51,380, and the EPA estimated range is 275 miles.

            A significant issue with EV is battery life, performance, and replacement cost. For example, G.M. offers an eight-year, 100,000-mile battery warranty. However, battery capacity degradation over the warranty term may be between 10 and 40 percent. The battery for a Chevy Bolt is $16,500. Labor and miscellaneous parts push this to nearly $20,000.

            EV is selling at a slightly higher rate than the rest of the fleet, but it may be quite some time before they become more commonplace. But savvy car care operators are already catering to them with on-site charging stations designed to make the car care center a destination.

Artificial Intelligence

            Artificial intelligence (AI) is the intelligence of machines or software, as opposed to the intelligence of humans or animals. For example, ChatGPT (chat generative pre-trained transformer) is a large language model-based chatbot developed by Open AI.

            A chatbot is a software application or web interface that aims to mimic human conversation through text or voice interactions. ChatGPT allows users to refine and steer a conversation towards a desired length, format, style, level of detail, and language.

            Marketing experts say AI can allow small business owners to put many mundane tasks on autopilot. For example, AI can draft and create content for welcome e-mails, e-mail campaigns, reminder texts, and social media posts and send them automatically.

            AI-powered software is now available for business plan writing, project management, recruitment, productivity, virtual meetings, video creation, and other business functions. AI and machine learning have also penetrated site selection methods.

            For years, developers relied on experience, intuition, and predictive models to decide where to locate a new retail store. The issue with this approach is predictive models are static. In other words, the model can’t adjust for changes in business performance. By comparison, AI-powered software can handle more data and learn and adjust forecasts when receiving new inputs.

Digital Currency

            Digital currency is any currency, money, or money-like asset primarily managed, stored, or exchanged on digital computer systems, especially over the Internet. Digital currencies include cryptocurrency, virtual currency, and central bank digital currency.

            As a digital medium, cryptocurrency allows direct transactions without third-party processors. Experts say the principal benefits of digital currency for small businesses are lowering transaction fees (credit card fees) and heightened brand visibility by accepting another form of payment.

            If you are thinking of accepting crypto, tread lightly. Such currency is not regulated or backed by any government. So, accepting crypto as payment can introduce security concerns.

Bob Roman is a car wash consultant and can be reached at bobr427@protonmail.com.