Autonomous vehicles are a trendy topic for younger consumers after major innovations over the past couple years. However, as with any industry, the technological shift will have a far-reaching impact on many other facets of the automotive world.

Next-gen thinking

Two generations — millennials and centennials — are primed to control the automotive market in the near future, and new data on their attitudes toward self-driving technology suggest significant implications for the carwashing and auto detailing industry.

Autolist.com, an automotive buyer intelligence firm, gathered data on the current consumer pulse on autonomous vehicles.

Centennials and millennials showed the greatest desire for self-driving cars at 48.6 percent and 44.5 percent respectively. Comparatively, consumers of the traditionalist generation showed the least desire, with just 15.8 percent of them interested in owning a self-driving car. These percentages are indicative both of recent technological advances and a change in perception of what it means to own a car.

Approximately a quarter of millennials and centennials have trust in the complete autonomy that exists today. However, when forecasting 10 years from now, more than double expect to entrust all motor operation to their vehicles. Since this is still a new concept for many consumers, it is expected that demand will continue to grow as self-driving cars become more affordable and readily available.1

Related: Consumers aren’t crazy about self-driving vehicles

“When groundbreaking technology changes an industry, there is a ripple effect across the entire economic landscape,” states Autolist.com’s Head of Analytics Alex Klein. “Self-driving cars will not only change how people drive but [also] their entire lifestyle. Our study shows the automotive industry is headed for some major changes based on consumer preferences for autonomous technology.”

Do millennials and centennials care about their cars?

The Center for Generational Kinetics released a study in 2015 that revealed millennials actually think about car maintenance more than older generations, but they are twice as likely to lack confidence in their own car care ability. They are seeking out experts, especially online, for help in making the best car care decisions, but they still value convenience and transparency overall.2

As a result, there is a significant opportunity for carwash owners and auto detailers to capitalize on the younger generations. Millennials and centennials have enormous buying power, and car care is something they deem a necessity.3 It’s how they are marketed to that will have a major impact on businesses trying to capitalize on this new crop of car owners.

Do autonomous cars mean autonomous car care? Should a car that drives itself take care of itself? It’s hard to predict exactly how the dynamic between younger consumers and their cars will change, but proactive business strategies can give owners a competitive advantage in the future. Millennials and centennials clearly want to spend less time operating and caring for a vehicle than previous generations, which is consistent with their desire for self-driving cars, indicating an affinity for convenience and low maintenance car ownership.

With major automotive manufacturers such as GM, Tesla and Ford competing to be the first to mass-produce self-driving cars, autonomy may become an affordable reality quicker than expected. Therefore, carwash owners and auto detailers should begin considering how they will service self-driving vehicles sooner rather than later.

Car care transformation

In order to cater to newer demographics, business owners may want to consider some of the following ideas as they expand and evolve their business.

Mobile applications

The average adult spent 3.1 hours per day on his or her mobile device in 2016, up from only 0.4 hours in 2010, making it advantageous for companies to adapt to be mobile-friendly.4 Simple mobile applications can remind car owners of maintenance needs, service schedules, etc.

Younger generations are very brand loyal, but they will constantly be searching for the best businesses through Google, Yelp and other social media platforms.3 An application downloaded onto a user’s phone will foster brand loyalty, cater to an affinity for technology integration and create customer loyalty.

In-home services

Bringing the service to the consumer is crucial for the next generation of car owners. The rapid escalation of ride-sharing businesses over the past five years and the promising levels of comfort and trust in autonomous technology demonstrates the desire for the entire automotive experience to become less time-consuming from a user perspective. Millennials and centennials value their time and will pay a premium for services that will come to them.

Related: Q&A: The rise of app-based mobile detailing

Real estate/location

With self-driving capabilities, consumers may no longer be required to make the trip with their vehicle to have it cleaned. Consequently, finding sizeable real estate in high-volume regions at a reasonable price could become obsolete hurdles. The opportunity to build a carwash service optimized for functionality and cost for the owner, along with convenience for the consumer, is a simpler equation when the user is not present.

Partnerships

As both manufacturers and ride-sharing applications push to make innovations in their self-driving capabilities, it is not yet clear whether personal car ownership will be as popular in 10 years as it is today. However, carwash owners and auto detailers can align themselves with potential shifts by partnering with companies that will run autonomous fleets to have both consumers and enterprise users as potential customers. After all, some experts predict that autonomous vehicles will be available through ride-share services before they become available to the general consumer.5

Workplace services

This service is especially relevant for commuters, as they would most likely value the opportunity to drive home in a clean car after a long day. Success with this type of service could be achieved by partnering with employers and offering subsidized services. It is a targeted approach that could be financially beneficial if detailers work with a handful of local companies. It cuts advertising costs while putting service options directly in front of car owners, giving them the opportunity to save time and gas money.

State-of-the-art equipment

All automotive businesses, including carwashes, should stay informed and integrated with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) on the engineering challenges unique to self-driving vehicles. Ensuring that the sensors, cameras and steering cooperate seamlessly with equipment, such as carwash conveyor tracks and operational controls, will be crucial to the adaptability and growth for businesses in the future.6

Industry impact

On the heels of the electric vehicle disruption in the automotive industry, autonomous technology may mark the next great shift for peripheral auto industries. Adaptations will be inevitable, similar to the installation of auto charging stations from the electric revolution.

Related: Infographic: Where next for car technology?

Self-driving cars are indeed a hallmark of technology and convenience, making them extremely popular to younger generations that prioritize this intriguing combination. It is crucial to adapt to the potential market implications brought  about by millennials and centennials. While the autonomous vehicle is not yet widely used, the concept allows us to peek at what the carwashing and detailing industry will look like once the market is dominated by future generations.

Editor’s note: The generations cited in the research mentioned in this article include the following age groups: centennials (ages 16-24), millennials (ages 25-39), Gen X (ages 40-54), baby boomers (ages 59-69) and traditionalists (ages 70-plus).


Chase Disher is a manager of marketing analytics and Paige Geer is an industry writer for the automotive buyer intelligence firm, Autolist.com. They can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]. Visit www.autolist.com for more consumer news and analysis on all things automotive.

Sources:

1http://www.autolist.com/audi-a4#section=news&s=a

2http://genhq.com/millennials-and-cars-clearing-up-the-misconception/

3http://hedgescompany.com/blog/2015/08/millennials-changing-the-automotive-aftermarket/

4http://www.kpcb.com/internet-trends

5http://www.autonews.com/article/20170404/MOBILITY/170409940/ford-exec-expects-consumers-to-get-fully-autonomous-cars-by-2026-31

6http://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/autos/2016/10/26/roads-driverless-tech-must-conquer-car-washes/92800622/