CAR WASH Magazine recently sat down with Glen Hiemstra, CEO and founder of Futurist.com to get his take on what the future might look like for the car wash industry.
Hiemstra calls himself a futurist and over his two-decade career as an expert on future trends he’s had a few big “told you so” moments. He warned audiences about global warming and climate change in 1987. He was among the first to discuss the age wave and the end of classic retirement. And in 2006 — one full year before the financial crisis — he was explaining to audiences why the debt bubble would burst.
The 68-year-old Hiemstra, consultant, lecturer and author, has helped dozens of leading companies, government agencies and organizations get an early peak into what’s up ahead. Among his corporate clients: Toyota, Boeing, Microsoft, Home Depot, Hewlett Packard and Procter & Gamble.
Now in an exclusive interview with Magazine, he discusses the future of transportation, cars and, yes, even car washes.
Tell me something — anything — about the car wash of the future?
They will be even more automated than today, probably with robots. They will be even more regulated on environmental issues like water runoff and minimal water use. Perhaps even no water at all. The waterless wash is a little hard to imagine unless car finishes are changed and can just be cloth wiped.
That doesn’t seem completely far-fetched. How about cars — how will they be different in 10 years?
Cars will still be ubiquitous. A significantly higher percentage will be electric. I’d predict that 50 percent of all cars will be electric by then. This raises an interesting opportunity for the car wash of the future, which is to consider having charging stations available for all of the electric cars. And here’s one possibility: a really sophisticated electric, autonomous vehicle — in certain neighborhoods- would be capable of being instructed by its owner to drive itself to the car wash.
Okay, let’s go further out. What will cars be like in 20 to 25 years?
That will be the generation of the autonomous vehicle. At this point, cars will be mostly owned by fleets and not by individuals. When you want to go somewhere, you will call for an autonomous car, which will show up and take you there. If I want to go three miles to Starbucks, I’ll call for an autonomous car which will drive me there — and back.
So, people won’t want to own their own cars anymore?
It will all come down to an economic argument. In order to eliminate the advantage of owning your own car, the economic advantage has to be so much cheaper. In the long run, that’s exactly what will happen, but it’s several decades away.
What about the spaceship car that we’ve all seen in comic books, cartoons and movies — when is that coming?
If you go far enough out, yes, there will be vehicles that double as road transport and flying vehicles. Fact is, there is only one reason why we don’t have personal flying vehicles right now: they’re too noisy! It’s hard to make a flying vehicle quiet enough that you don’t have to land it at some specialized airport. But it’s certainly a fun engineering concept. When you think about it, being able to fly from rooftop to rooftop would be a great market advantage.
What about the possibility of cars that double as watercraft?
Sure, there will be some that go in and out of water, but there’s not a great market need for that.
Let’s go back to that autonomous car. Won’t that be a huge cultural change?
It would certainly change the notion of everybody commuting at the same time. People would have to be willing to share rides. You’d have to have a lot autonomous cars on standby that come out of their hiding places at the end of the workday to get people home. There would have to be a change in the way the work day is organized.
It’s difficult to imagine America as a driverless nation, no?
People would have to give up the independence that comes from driving their own vehicles. At that point, being free from your car may be the real signal of independence.
Cars don’t just take us places — they also hold our stuff. If we don’t own them, would we need less stuff?
If you don’t own a car, you’d have to give up a certain amount of personal space. An owned car has things you leave in it — like maps and chewing gum and sunglasses. That would no longer be in the autonomous vehicle that you step into. It would be a difficult adjustment. People like to have their stuff waiting for them.
So, how will these autonomous cars work?
You should be able to walk up to any autonomous vehicle and it would essentially recognize you. The car will automatically make adjustments for you like change the radio station; lower the temperature or even adjust what you are offered to eat before you step in.
What do autonomous cars mean for the car wash business?
The biggest implication of autonomous cars for the car wash business is this: there will be about 60 percent fewer cars needed to move people around. That’s because the average car currently sits about 95 percent of the day without moving. That will no longer be the case with autonomous cars. Instead of cars being driven 12,000 miles per year, they will be driven 100,000 per year. But the 40 percent of cars that are still around will still need to get washed.
Will folks lose interest in car ownership altogether?
Cars will be seen in a similar way that horses are today. Just as a small percentage of people own horses for recreation, a small percentage will own cars for recreation. Cars will be purchased by collectors and will be driven on special roads set aside for humans to drive on. Insurance companies will shift from being nervous about autonomous cars to charging exorbitant fees for these individual cars that can only be driven in special areas.
Will this be the end of car accidents?
Autonomous cars will be frustrating because they will follow speed limits. All will basically be traveling at the same speed. This could lead to psychological frustration of passengers who want their cars to go faster, but they won’t.
How will autonomous cars change car design?
For one thing, there will be a lot fewer moving parts. The average number of moving parts in an internal combustion car is 2,000 vs. about 20 in an electric car. They will be cheaper to make, operate and maintain.
Can you describe what they will look like?
You don’t need a driver’s seat. The whole shape of the vehicle could change — with no front end or back end. And if we really get comfortable with cars where there is no driver required, you only have to make a box on wheels. They might look like those airport transporters that have no driver but get you from terminal to terminal — but with much more comfortable seats.
So, instead of looking cool, cars will be judged on how it entertains the passenger?
They will have to have short entertainment packages aimed at people traveling short distances, since the average car trip is 19 minutes. That’s not enough time to watch a movie.
There must be more creative ways than movies to entertain us.
Virtual Reality could take over. When you step into an autonomous car, you might go on a VR roller coaster ride or go deep sea fishing on the Great Barrier Reef for 10 minutes. Of course, you’d pay extra for that.
Who will own and operate these autonomous car fleets?
For one, car makers like Ford Motor Company. Instead of selling cars, Ford would charge fees that people pay to ride in them and collect ad revenue from services inside the car. Also, brands like Starbucks might own fleets and make sure you stop at Starbucks on the way to wherever you are going. Uber and Lyft will make big plays to go this direction and of course Google is looking into this. Then, there’s Amazon. A big retailer like Amazon might buy 100,000 vehicles and make sure you do nothing but shop on Amazon when you’re in their cars. You’ll get special discounts, of course, when you’re riding in an Amazon vehicle.
So, Americans will ultimately fall out of love with cars?
We’ll know a lot more in five to 10 years, but I do see a shift in America’s love affair with the car.
Dare I ask this: Will the car key finally disappear?
That will happen relatively soon. Some sort of biometric app-base system to get you in and out of your car will be common in the next five to 10 years.
What else will disappear?
Well, multi-car families. Only 8.7 percent of households in the USA are car-free. Multi-car families will become one-car families and then no-car families.
What could slow the assent of the autonomous car?
The way we think. As car owners, we know that we pay for fuel every week. We know that we make car payments and insurance payments every month. But when you step into your own car to go somewhere, it feels like it’s free. That’s a big psychological shift to pay money every time you go somewhere.
Okay, we started with car washes so let’s end with car washes. Just how high tech can the car wash of the future get?
At some point, the car wash will be able to physically recognize a car. It will automatically identify what car it has and what needs to be done. It willconfigure the car wash based on the car and the owner. So, each wash will be automatically customized.