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News from the industry

October 11, 2010
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State attorney general wants Jeep investigation
Just hours after the Connecticut state attorney general called for a federal investigation into potentially fatal problems with Jeep Grand Cherokees accelerating out of control, a Jeep rammed into the side of a sports club in the same state.

And the day after that, a brand new Grand Cherokee burst out of a carwash tunnel in Ohio. One employee sustained a minor injury and there was some property damage before the Jeep was brought under control on the highway, more than 100 feet from the tunnel.

The attorney general’s call was prompted by the late winter accident at a Splash Car Wash in Hamden, CT, in which a 52-year-old customer was killed and a Splash employee injured. The attorney general made the announcement the morning of June 13.

On June 14, two people were injured in the incident involving a Jeep Grand Cherokee in Danbury, CT.

On June 15, a 52-year-old employee, who has worked at Thunderbird Car Wash for the past 12 years, got into a 2006 Jeep — with less than 4,000 miles on it — to drive it off the conveyor. When he put the car in “drive,” it accelerated out of the tunnel, smashed the open door of a Cadillac, squeezed between two other cars, jumped a curb and was about 75 feet down a street before he brought it under control, explained the owner of the wash, Nancy Hiltman.

The Connecticut attorney general, along with Rep. Patricia Widlitz, wants the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to investigate problems with late model Grand Cherokees.

Daimler Chrysler, which makes Jeep, said several studies have concluded “driver error is the only plausible explanation for sudden acceleration.”

Earlier this year, the International Carwash Association began a program to collect information on all “sudden unintended acceleration” incidents at carwashes.

Is Home Depot’s newest c-store/carwash a bust?
The second store in Home Depot’s pilot plan to launch a convenience store chain has opened to a meager response.

Few members of the intended consumer market had shown up by 5:30 a.m. on opening day at this residentially-located Tennessee store, and business appeared to be lacking.

The store has a touchless PDQ carwash.

The first Home Depot c-store is also located in Tennessee, but in a more commercial district. Home Depot intends to open several stores near Nashville, most with carwashes.

Wall Street Journal reports on carwash competition
The Wall Street Journal has taken notice of the expansion of so-called big box chains into the carwashing business and how local owners are upping services by offering monthly pay plans, dog washes and wireless computer links in waiting rooms.

Automated washes at gas stations and washes at some big box chains, such as Costco, Home Depot and Sam’s Club, are prompting changes in “a conservative business long dominated by mom-and-pop and small chains.”

Among new strategies are monthly pay plans, discount pricing and a move to exterior-only washes to save customers’ time.

Many carwashes are also adding pet wash facilities, although one wash included in the report has since closed a pet wash bay because of problems with barking, soiling the landscape and running around unleashed.

Additionally, Turtle Wax Inc. is now offering Wi-Fi in some waiting rooms and has other services, such as aromatherapy scents and personalized greetings based on car license plate numbers.

James McNutt Sr. of Standard Change dies
James F. McNutt Sr., founder of Standard Change-Makers, Inc., died June 6 at his home. He was 82.

McNutt was head of Pacific Nik-O-Lok Co., part of a family-owned business, when, in 1955, he introduced a device which could make change. That first Standard Change-Maker machine sold for $89.50 and became the foundation for Standard Change-Makers, Inc. Within a year, the company developed a machine which would make change, in any possible combination, for a half-dollar coin.

Acting on a salesman’s tip, McNutt went to Chicago where he helped Westinghouse develop change machines for its emerging coin-operated laundry business, eliminating the need for a full-time attendant. In following years, the company developed machines which would make change for $1 bills (1964), $5 bills (1978) and $10 and $20 bills (1987).

McNutt was named chairman of the board of Nik-O-Lok in 1993 and continued in that post until his death. Three of his sons are also involved with Standard and Nik-O-Lok.

Second largest carwash chain hits 44 sites
Autobell Car Wash Inc., the third largest automatic carwash chain as ranked in Professional Carwashing & Detailing’s® Top 50 list this year, has opened its 44th site, and risen to number 2 on the Top 50 chart.

Autobell, a family-owned and privately-held carwash company based in Charlotte, NC., said its newest carwash becomes the fourth Autobell unit in the Raleigh-area.

Autobell operates 44 units in 22 North Carolina and four Virginia cities, employs approximately 1,200 people, and washes over 2 million cars annually.

The company’s last site opened in March of 2005.

Former wash employee abducted and killed in Iraq
Army Pfc. Thomas Lowell Tucker, a former employee of the Tiger Mart carwash in Madras, OR, was kidnapped and killed in Iraq.

Tucker disappeared on June 17 after an attack on a military checkpoint in an area south of Baghdad known as the “Triangle of Death.”

“When something like this happens to someone from a small town like Madras, it really hits home,” Ed Bockoven, manager of the carwash. “I know the whole community is supporting Tom Tucker. He has a lot of friends in town.”

Tucker, 25, was found dead in Yusufiya, Iraq, although details of how he died were not revealed by military officials.