It comes to this every year: How do you measure the success of commercial car washing’s biggest annual event? And who is to do the measuring? The exhibitors’ take on the show is certain to differ from how the operator attendees view the event, which, in turn, will be quite dissimilar to the organizers’ perspective.

So how do we take stock of The Car Wash Show 2019? There is no single measure. While numbers are useful, they are not the sole determinant of success. But they can take us some distance in determining the health of the event. For example, at 170,000 square feet, the tradeshow floor in Nashville set a record: the biggest show ever. Contrary to some reports, though, attendance did not quite reach the lofty level achieved in Las Vegas in 2004. The show that year attracted 10,605, a record that calls out to be bested. With attendance in Nashville this year exceeding 9,500, we’re getting closer.

Enthusiasm was not in short supply. Attendees kept the tradeshow floor busy, while exhibitors pulled out all the stops in presenting their products and services, many with newly designed booths brimming with equipment. Several opted for large, elaborate LED displays as supplemental attraction. A live auction on the tradeshow floor caused some excitement and drew a crowd. On the block was a brand-new car wash with state-of-the-art equipment in Tyler, TX. The final bid was $3.1 million.

There was also no shortage of educational opportunities — some might say an overabundance. Obviously a lot of forethought and hard work went into assembling the extensive program. Excluding the Sunday New Investor and Emerging Leaders seminars, as well as the Quick Hits presentations, there were a total of 61 educational sessions to choose from. That this wide-ranging menu was spread over a mere seven timeslots necessitated selecting only those seminars that held the most interest — even accounting for the fact that 14 of the premium-category presentations were repetitions.

Faced with this dilemma, I had no hesitation in choosing New Car Technology as one of the seminars to attend. Derek Kaufman of Schwartz Advisors always offers a fascinating presentation, providing a glimpse of what our future auto industry might look like and how it could impact car washing. According to Kaufman, by 2025, 100 percent of new cars are expected to feature advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS); by 2030, 38 percent of vehicles in operation (VIO) will be so equipped.

As the auto industry, resulting from the growth of transport as a service (TaaS), morphs from individual to fleet ownership, Schwartz estimates that by 2050 vehicle miles travelled (VMT) could double even as VIO numbers decline. This scenario, Kaufman says, creates opportunities for car washes as ride-share vehicles and autonomous “people movers” would require multiple cleanings per day.

One new technology received welcome mention at the Annual Membership Meeting: “car wash mode” — a newly floated function from Mercedes Benz that retracts mirrors and antenna and disables ADAS for the wash duration. Richard Enning, president of the International Carwash Association and CEO of the Essen, Germany-based Mr. Wash car wash chain, termed it an icebreaker. He implored operators everywhere to post signs instructing customers to “Activate Your Car Wash Mode,” and to refer those who are mystified to their dealers or to the auto manufacturers, thus creating demand.

This is an advance car wash operators have been asking for. The least we can do is give it the push Enning suggests.