‘The focus in the car wash industry is shifting to quality, marketing and the environment’

The future is looking bright for the car wash industry, Arthur Wessels says. Mobile apps and paying at the wash will become more important in the following years according to WashTec’s executive vice president.

WashTec is one of the biggest manufacturers of car wash equipment in the world. Arthur Wessels has been with the company since 1992 and is familiar with the Dutch market, the European market and the global market. If anyone knows how the car wash industry is doing, it’s Wessels. He was a guest at the Car Wash Show Europe 2021 digital stage, that CarwashPro organized together with the ICA.

What state is Europe in right now?
I think from an industry perspective the European car wash markt is doing quite good. During the pandemic the industry has proven itself to be extremely robust. Of course in those countries where there was a full lockdown, business was down. In other countries business has grown. 2021 has been great so far. We hear this from our customers and see this at our own affiliates. Sales is growing. I think there is a very positive tendency in the industry right now.

Is that because or despite of the global pandemic?
I would say despite. In the last years business in general has been good in most countries. When we were first confronted with the corona virus everyone was nervous and holding back. But already in the summer months business was improving. All in all 2020 was a good year.

How are the markets organized in Western Europe?
When it comes to numbers, Germany has the most automated car washes, followed by France. The UK and France are comparable in the number of inhabitants, but not when it comes to the number of car wash installations. The UK has to deal with hand washes, although this is on the return now. What all countries have in common is high quality in washes.

Are there culturally determined differences between the Western European countries? For example: de the French like to use jet washes?
Yes. Germany has about 16.000 installed automated machines, France only has around 7.500. Also, there are 3.500 jet washes in Germany, while France has around 5.500. There are definitely some operators in France that are very successful in jet washes.

Are car washes usually next to fuel stations throughout Europe?
The biggest market is indeed washing combined with fuel stations, followed by stand alone washes. But let’s not forget car dealers who do commercial washes.

Do unmanned express washes such as in the USA lie in the future of Europe?
Wash tunnels make up a large portion of all car washes in Germany and the Benelux. We don’t see unmanned tunnels a lot. Interior cleaning is a much bigger trend, which is always manual labour. Express washes could be a trend, but the circumstances need to be just right. Just look at France. Just ty to find a piece of land in the Paris area where you can build such a site. The first step is always the location, which is very expensive in Europe. In the areas where building is possible you will also have to find the numbers to justify the business case. And the investment for such a location is high, I’m talking millions. If you have the right spot and then the potential clients, then yes, this is a good business case. But all the factors need to be there.

Can you name some current trends and developments?
What has really taken up speed during the pandemic is mobile payment. I think paying at the wash will grow. This is already very common in France and Southern Europe and Scandinavia. This means you don’t go into the store to pay for your wash, but use your phone or just pay at the wash bay. I also think that digital apps for buying a wash and subcriptions will take flight. Digitalization will definitely be big.

What does digitalization mean from an operator’s perspective?
It means to have better remote acces to your equipment for predictive maintenance. Right now the maintenance usually is done when there is a problem, not when there will be a problem. We’re now in a reactive mode, but moving towards pro-active. The result is that car washes have a better up-time.

WashTec is a market leader. The company is listed in the stock exchange, the turnover is about 430 billion euro. Do you still fight for every order?
Of course. High winds blow on high hills.Of course we have to fight for every order. Maybe even more than others, because of the expectations we want to meet. We want to do the right things and work on innovation and service. In the end the customer decides which company they want to work with, so we want to meet those expectations. Service is one of our strength. We have over six hundred technicians on the road, only in Europe. It’s all about availability. Every machine needs maintenance, every will break down now and then. How fast is the service engineer going to be there? WashTec guarantees a 98 per cent uptime on a full maintenance contract. And we have some higher scores in some countries.

In the future there might be less cars to wash. If you look at bigger trends populations are moving to cities, public transport and sharing cars are growing, car just might become autonomous. So where do opportunities lie for car wash operators in the further future?
Car ownership will change. Young people don’t want to necessarily own a car, but they do want to use it. And then the use of a clean car is even more important. Interior cleaning can get a positive impulse from this. But for now the number of cards one the read is still increasing. I see a very positive future for car washes because of both trends.

Are customers willing to pay more for an environmentally friendly wash?
Sustainabilitiy is high on the agenda. We’re working on this with chemicals, water consumption and recycling, power consumptions… All the aspects need to be looked at. And sustainability is even more important for younger people.

Is the future looking bright for the car wash industry?
Yes! I’ve been in the industry for over 30 years, I’ve seen ups and downs. Right now the focus in the industry is shifting to quality, marketing and the environment. The consumer is willing to use a car wash when it’s available. Do you still see your neighbors washing their cars on the street on Saturday? No. But it’s rather busy at the car wash on the weekends. That’s why we believe some more machines can be installed.

You can watch the interview with Wessels below. 

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Author: Rieneke Kok

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