Robots and self-service car wash: who wins?

March 2021

Is there any confrontation between robotic car washes and self-service car washes? You’d be surprised, but … no! However, ALLES does not sell robots. Why? Let’s figure it out.

About robots

Let’s start with robots. Why do they attract the car drivers:

  • the driver does not have to get out of the car and does nothing himself, absolutely;
  • the robot strictly follows the standard washing cycle, without missing a single stage;
  • the robot requires less installation space than a standard self-service car wash;
  • 6 minutes, and the car is washed.

If it is as great as that, so fast and simple, why aren’t there more robotic car washes in Russia? There are several reasons.

  1. It is expensive for the owner! The cost of installation of one robotic post starts from 10 million rubles (equipment 4-7 million rubles + utility systems + construction). Payback period is from 2 to 5 years. By the way, 10 million rubles is the cost of a 4-station self-service car wash based on Alles equipment.
  2. It’s expensive for a car driver! The average paid amount at a robotic car wash is 400 rubles versus 150 rubles at a common self-service car wash. Consumption of water and chemicals for 1 car is 4 times higher than at a self-service car wash, 400 liters vs 100 liters. Water consumption at Alles self-service car washes is 12 l/min per 1 car (17 l/min in Turbo mode). With the average washing time of 7 minutes, it is 90-110 liters of water.
  3. Nowadays in our country, almost no one produces car wash robots. Several robots assembled in the last couple of years cannot be taken into account. They have not yet captured their market share from Chinese and European manufacturers. 95% of robots are made in China. The remaining 5% are Spain, Italy, USA.
  4. Robots failed to take the Russian market off the cuff: now we are witnessing the third wave of interest in robots, but they do not enjoy wide popularity. Several of our market partners, who once installed robotic car washes in different cities, are no longer planning to develop their business with such complexes.
  5. Touch-free washing at a fixed distance and automation of the cycle fail to wash all body elements with the same quality, they are useless in case of heavy dirt and wash away at best the dust of California roads.
  6. For maintenance of a robot, it is necessary to keep a full-time specialist, and not just an operator, but a highly skilled mechanic, because any breakdown is the shutdown of the entire car wash, in contrast to a multi-station self-service car wash.
  7. The maximum turnover of one post on a robotic car wash is 700,000 rubles per month in non-metropolitan areas and 1.2 million rubles in metropolises, of which 60-70% are maintenance and rental costs. For comparison – a 4-station car wash on ALLES equipment with the turnover of 1 million rubles per month requires 35-45% of costs.
  8. A car wash robot with the standard washing cycle in functionality is far even from the basic set of ALLES programs. The full complex of 14 programs, including a windscreen washer liquid, air and a hand brush with foam, has never been available at it.

About self-service car washes

  • Some may think that the future belongs to robots. But it lies with smart and technological car washes. It equally applies to robots and self-service car washes. Those who today are content with small turnover and do not have funds for upgrade, and therefore go out of date and lose the competition, will not survive in 5 years.
  • At the moment ALLES has the best automatic controls for sensors, drives and cloud control, and we may easily produce our trial robot within a year. But until we find the key to the ideal automatic washing and the minimum cost, it makes no sense.
  • Some people naively believe that self-service car washes will not survive due to refusal from women drivers who wouldn’t not want to get dirty on a self-service car wash. But according to statistics for 2020, women are only 20% of all drivers. And among active users of ALLES BONUS there are only 8% of women. So there is no serious threat of traffic loss for self-service car washes.
  • On the other hand it is worth mentioning that the robot misses many categories of vehicles: motorcycles, trucks, cars with various complex or long attachments on the body, etc. They either technically will not squeeze into the robot, or they risk severe damage of their transport. While at self-service car wash you can wash everything: from sledges to tractor-trailers.
  • We compare the quality of washing not on an abstract self-service car wash, but on an ALLES car wash with the quality offered by a robot. The nozzles on the robot racks are located at a great distance from the car – 30 cm and do not ensure cleaning of stubborn dirt. While people themselves focus the washing gun and adjust the distance to the body and the water pressure with the Turbo mode up to 180 bar. Besides, the robot washes only the outside.

About money

  • The profitability of a 5-station ALLES self-service car wash on the 2nd line in a highly competitive environment in St. Petersburg is 60% including all rental costs, etc. – before income tax. And a robot of one of our clients has the profitability of 35% from the turnover of 700 thousand rubles per month.
  • The payback for our self-service car washes is 20-30 months subject to observance of basic recommendations. In our opinion, the maximum payback period for this segment, is 2.5-3 years. Anything longer is too long-term and high risk in Russian environment.
  • The payback for robots is very unpredictable, you can see high figures of revenue up to 1 million rubles at the start, but then the interest of the audience fades away for various reasons: it does not wash well, long queues, frequent breakdowns, the price of the service is 2.5 times more expensive, the novelty effect passes off. One robot is 25,000 rubles per day maximum, 4-station self-service car wash is 60,000 rubles per day maximum.
  • If the robot breaks down, the car wash is shut. In case of malfunction on a self-service car wash, 1 station is out of order.
  • The robot cannot earn on additional services. It offers none. It will not clean the interior of the car, will not refill the windscreen washer. The advantage of the robot has the small required space, but if you develop additional infrastructure around, then the whole meaning and concept of a robot as a business are lost. Additional car washers? Then why do we need a robot at all, if there are people, and their labour in Russia is cheaper? In general, the concept of a robot as a business breaks down when additional services are added.

Symbiosis

The experiment of coexistence of the self-service car wash and the robot already exists. Our client ordered a 5-station car wash on ALLES equipment and added the robot to it. By the way, the owner is familiar with the matter, he owns some more profitable facilities, therefore he was choosing the manufacturers carefully. ALLES and the KOLONWASH robot were launched almost at the same time, in summer 2020. Let’s check the results and facts:

– for 8 months the robot was idle for the total of 2.5 months due to the lack of qualified technical maintenance in Samara; almost everything went out of order: drives, electronics, mechanics, sensors, even one of the two L-shaped rods fell off (fortunately, not on a car);

– the maximum daily revenue from the robot at this car wash is 25,000 rubles; peak revenue per month – 300,000 rubles (due to repairs and idle time among other things).

When the owner opened the car wash, he supposed that both formats would perfectly complement each other, but in fact, he makes money mainly of the self-service car wash. Finding qualified operators to maintain the robot is also not easy. The result is the increased costs and risks of the owner, pain in the neck and an unknown payback period of the “device”.

At this point, perhaps, we shall end the battle. Though there is no confrontation at all. The robots exist and will exist. As well as self-service car washes. Each format has its own fans.