John Bowis on the future of the auto industry ~
“Our industry is under assault, it’s going to change, but my job is not to fight that change, my job is to figure out a path forward-and embrace it.”
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen, and this is Our Town. As a special guest on Our Town, the man whose family epitomizes Our Town. In 1939, the Bowis family started Chevy Chase Cars. I don’t know what it was
called then, but-
John Bowis: Chevy Chase Motor Company.
Andy Ockershausen: … John Bowis is now the surviving member of the Bowis family. He’s a father of five, and they’re all gonna be running the business someday.
John Bowis: Maybe.
Andy Ockershausen: John, welcome to Our Town.
John Bowis: Thank you, Andy.
Andy Ockershausen: You know, we have such a relationship with your family before you were born of course, with your grandfather, Art, and Jim Gibbons, who was my guru-
John Bowis: Right, good friends.
Andy Ockershausen: … and he led me in this business, my mentor, and we started together. So, the name Bowis always meant a lot, but I didn’t know about the automobile business, because I thought they were in the real estate business.
John Bowis: Right.
Andy Ockershausen: Were they not?
Automobile Business is Foundation for Art Bowis Legacy
John Bowis: The automobile business is what allowed my grandfather to invest in real estate, so real estate was his second job, but the automobile business is what brought him to the table.
Andy Ockershausen: But, when you opened, Bethesda, it was not like Bethesda now.
John Bowis: Not at all, not at all.
Andy Ockershausen: In 1939, I’ve seen pictures.
John Bowis: 1939. So, in 1939, my grandfather was working at a Chevy store downtown in D.C. Most of the automobile dealerships-
Andy Ockershausen: Was in downtown Washington-
First Came NIH and the National Navy Medical Center
John Bowis: … they were called agencies back then, were located in D.C. There were very few dealerships in the suburbs, but my grandfather wanted to work for himself, and he was in sales, and there was another friend of his, Bob Suddith, Sr., they decided to partner together and go open up a Chevrolet store some place. They could have gone in any direction outside of the city, and my grandfather realized, or noticed, that the government opened up two locations in Bethesda just the year prior.
One was NIH, National Institutes of Health. The US government bought the-
Andy Ockershausen: Golf course, right?
John Bowis: … bought the golf course. And also the Wilson farm. It was the Wilson farm, Wilson Lane. Dr. Wilson. It was a long-time Bethesda family. The federal government bought the Wilson farm. They bought the Woodmont Golf Course. And then across the street, they opened up … they broke ground on the National Navy Medical Center, which is now Walter Reed.
My grandfather decided to go out to Bethesda and scope out property, and he landed on this property right next to the old Bethesda Theater. It used to be the Boro Theatre.
Andy Ockershausen: I remember it very well.
Then came Chevy Chase Motor Company
John Bowis: That whole block was owned by a guy named Sidney Lust, who had a number of movie theaters. That was his business. Sidney Lust’s idea was, open up a movie theater and that would be the anchor, and then he’d have a strip center around it. There was parking out back and so forth. Well, this was 1938, 1939, and it was still the height of the recession, and he couldn’t get the retail center concept going, so my grandfather went out to look at part of that property. He and Bob Suddith walked the property for almost an hour, and my grandfather said, “This would be a fantastic place for a dealership.”, and his partner said, “Yeah, but we’ve been here for almost an hour, and not a single car has driven by.”
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: The good old days.
John Bowis: The good old days.
Andy Ockershausen: Bob was on to something.
John Bowis: Now there’re 60,000 motorists every day on Wisconsin Avenue.
Andy Ockershausen: You take advantage of it, of course.
John Bowis: The story is, is that he liked the property so much and he liked the fact that Bethesda was growing with these two government facilities-
Andy Ockershausen: Uncle Sam was here.
Art Bowis Pawned Wife’s Wedding Ring to Buy Property for New Dealership
John Bowis: … so he was really kind of a visionary but he didn’t have the money, so he had to pawn my grandmother’s wedding ring, in order to buy the property. That’s how he got into the car business and the real estate business all in one.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s Our Town. It’s a great, great, story about … You’re almost like the sons of the pioneers.
John Bowis: Exactly.
Andy Ockershausen: But then, no one had the concept of how Bethesda would explode as it has. Yesterday, Janice drove me to something out in Rockville that … I couldn’t believe it.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Pike & Rose.
John Bowis: Pike & Rose.
Andy Ockershausen: Just exploded.
John Bowis: Yeah. It’s amazing.
Andy Ockershausen: Your family was on the cutting edge of that, obviously, in the Chevrolet business.
Farmland Across the Street and the End of the Trolley Line
John Bowis: Yeah. Well, there was a small farm across the street from the dealership.
Andy Ockershausen: A working farm?
John Bowis: A small farm, you know. I mean, it was all farmland.
Andy Ockershausen: ’39. I know that well.
John Bowis: And I think the trolley came up from DC and ended at the bank, I think. Bank of Bethesda.
Andy Ockershausen: It was right on the corner, East West, right?
John Bowis: I think Wisconsin Avenue had just gotten paved several years earlier. It was a dirt … North of Bank of Bethesda, it was like a dirt road.
Andy Ockershausen: Correct. All the way out to Rockville.
John Bowis: All the way out to Rockville.
Andy Ockershausen: I remember when Viers Mill Road was so narrow, you couldn’t get by. That’s not that long ago, but … Your family is really pioneers, and you were pioneers in the automobile business, obviously. The name, Chevy Chase Chevrolet, but then your father, or your grandfather, changed it and made it Chevyland.
What’s in a Name – Why Chevy Chase
John Bowis: That was my father, Fred. Art opened up Chevy Chase Motor Company. That was the corporate name, but it was called Chevy Chase Cars. People say, “Why wasn’t it Bethesda Chevrolet instead of Chevy Chase Chevrolet?” Well, the Chevy Chase neighborhood was continuing to expand, and that was really the residential neighborhood. Bethesda was commercial, Chevy Chase was-
Andy Ockershausen: Always residential.
John Bowis: … always residential. There was another trolley that went up Connecticut Avenue, that terminated at the Chevy Chase Lake, where they had an amusement park, and a dance pavilion-
Andy Ockershausen: A pool. A swimming pool. I remember it well.
John Bowis: A swimming pool. That was all going on, I think he just liked the alliteration of Chevy Chase Chevrolet.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, it was a great name. I guess maybe 100 years ago, people would come up here to get cool in the summer, correct?
John Bowis: Exactly. They used to get summer homes up here too.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah.
John Bowis: But you asked about Chevyland, and that was my father’s brainchild. He was an engineer from MIT.
Andy Ockershausen: Ah-ha!
Passing the Baton from Father to Son
John Bowis: My father’s goal in life was to be president of General Motors. That’s what he wanted. The retail business was too small for him-
Andy Ockershausen: What an ambition.
John Bowis: … so he graduated from MIT, and he interviewed at General Motors, and they said … He told my father, Fred, he said, “Your father runs one of the most successful Chevrolet dealerships in the country, and you’re a fool if you give that up, if you come to work for the factory.” He changed his mind, and he ended up working for my grandfather. What happened was, the two of them butted heads. You had this immigrant, self-made man, and then you had my father, who was an MIT engineer-
Andy Ockershausen: Really educated.
John Bowis: … and graduated from college and had all these grand ideas of how a business should be run. A lot of marketing knowledge and so forth. They just butted heads all the time.
Andy Ockershausen: Not unusual.
John Bowis: Not unusual. My father, after several years, said, “You know what? I’m going to get out of the business, because it’s just not large enough for the two of us.” My father was married and had three kids. He goes off to American University law school, where Tony Morella, Connie Morella’s husband-
Andy Ockershausen: Oh yeah, Connie’s husband.
John Bowis: … was his professor. I think he graduated first in his class. I think Tony has told me that. But he ends up going to American University law school, graduates first in his class, and on graduation day, my grandfather said to Fred, “You know what? You’ve proven yourself, you come back into the business, and I’ll retire.”
Andy Ockershausen: It’s all yours.
John Bowis: It’s all yours. They shook hands on his graduation day, and it still took my grandfather about another five years to fully retire. But he bought a house … Art bought a house in Sarasota, Florida, and he spent six months of the year in Florida, and then eventually retired completely and moved full-time to Florida.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, Fred was such a local name to … I knew Fred through Bob Bowen, and through some of your customers. What a wonderful man. We used to go to watch the Redskins practice. We’d rent a bus and we’d take a bunch of people up to Carlisle in those days, and Fred was always with us.
John Bowis: I went on some of those trips.
Andy Ockershausen: You were just a child at the time.
John Bowis: I went on some of those trips. I loved those.
Andy Ockershausen: And Bob Bowen was such a friend of your dealership and everybody. Matter of fact, this young man is our news director here, been with me for years, he bought his first car across the street, there, at Chevy Chase Chevrolet. 1984 Chevy. I’m sure you took good care of him, because he was happy. But that’s John Matthews.
But this family is so entrenched in Bethesda, because what your grandfather started, your father continued. And you’re really doing it now.
John Bowis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Andy Ockershausen: I kind of was sad, as an observer, to see Chevy leave.
John Bowis: Right.
Andy Ockershausen: But obviously-
John Bowis: So was I.
Andy Ockershausen: … the business world has changed dramatically.
From Chevrolet to Acura – John Bowis Meets the Needs of the Market
John Bowis: Yeah. Well, you know, if you’re in business, you have to be a good steward of your company, and that means having the best products and services for your customers. It became clear, many years ago, that Chevrolet was not what our customers wanted.
Andy Ockershausen: They weren’t performing.
John Bowis: Chevrolet was not performing. General Motors was having difficulty. This was just before they ended up going bankrupt. The Bethesda market changed from mostly a domestic market, to mostly an import market. Today, it’s like 95% import registrations to domestic registrations.
Andy Ockershausen: I can see it. I can feel it. The product didn’t match the market.
John Bowis: The product didn’t match the market. And again, maybe 50% of the value of a Chevrolet dealership is its trucks and pickups trucks. In downtown Bethesda … That farm that was across the street in 1939, that was long gone decades earlier.
Andy Ockershausen: It’s Bethesda Place now.
John Bowis: Exactly.
Andy Ockershausen: High rise.
Growth Continues as New Marriott Headquarters Moves into Bethesda – Chevy Chase
John Bowis: It’s where the Marriott headquarters is going to go.
Andy Ockershausen: And you’re going to have a whole group of new customers coming in your dealership.
John Bowis: Exactly.
Andy Ockershausen: Because they’re going to build there. They’re going to spend a lot of money there, correct?
John Bowis: Right. Yes, I hope so.
Andy Ockershausen: Marriott.
John Bowis: 3500 employees.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s just great. A great story of the pioneer spirit of the Bowis family, to discover and put Chevy Chase on the map. That’s what it did. This is Andy Ockershausen, and we’re talking to John Bowis about Our Town.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen. I’m talking to John Bowis about Bethesda, about Chevy Chase, and about his family and his company, which has had some enormous impact. The second oldest business in Bethesda, I understand, John. If not the oldest.
Chevy Chase Motor Company – Oldest Retail Business in Continuous Operation In One Location
John Bowis: Right now, it’s the oldest retail business in continuous operation in one location.
Andy Ockershausen: And you don’t sell Chevys anymore, but a lot of people still think it’s Chevy Chase cars. Chevy, but –
John Bowis: We still service Chevrolets.
Andy Ockershausen: But you came from Chevyland, and your father came back and said, “We’re going to be Tomorrowland, right?”
John Bowis: Exactly.
Andy Ockershausen: And he renamed the dealership.
Name Change – Why Chevyland
John Bowis: Exactly. In the mid-60s, we were outgrowing our facility. There was a discussion about moving further out, maybe out to Montgomery Mall, maybe out to-
Andy Ockershausen: . . . Mall.
John Bowis: … further out to the suburbs. But we had such a large clientele in Bethesda, our service business was booming, and my father and my grandfather decided to reinvest in Bethesda, in downtown Bethesda. Instead of moving out, and finding a property that had acres and acres of property, we decided to go up. We built one of the first multi-level dealerships in the country.
We built a five story building on the original location in downtown Bethesda. This was the mid-60s. Disneyland out in California had been-
Andy Ockershausen: Out in Anaheim.
John Bowis: … running for a while, but they had just started opening up Disney World in Orlando. Disney was in the news. It was Disney, Disney, Disney-
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
John Bowis: … so my father saw this five story building with a curved façade, a curved front, and looked at it, and looked at it, and he thought back to his marketing days in college, and he said, “I’m going to call it Chevyland.”, because it reminded him … this building reminded him of the Magic Kingdom.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh yeah, it does. Absolutely.
John Bowis: It looked like the castle at the Magic Kingdom. He renamed it Chevyland. My mother was aghast. She thought that was so hokey, and didn’t like it at all. But it turned out to be genius. It was true genius.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh my god.
John Bowis: All the marketing was centered around Chevyland, and playing off the Disney theme. We had print advertisements that had a line drawing of this five story building, that made it sort of look like a castle. We had fireworks going off over the roof, so we really played it up. It worked out well.
Andy Ockershausen: Bethesda was beginning to explode at the time, correct.
John Bowis: Yes. Absolutely.
Andy Ockershausen: Metro was coming. You all knew that, and you knew what was going to happen at the corner. I can’t believe the Hot Shop is gone, and all that, but the corner of Wisconsin and Old Georgetown, that was sort of the center of downtown.
John Bowis: The dealership, in the mid-60s was one of the largest buildings in town.
Andy Ockershausen: I believe it.
The Metro Brings Bigger Buildings and More Growth
John Bowis: And then everything else built up around the Metro.
Andy Ockershausen: In addition to that, you guys have built an apartment building on your property, correct? That was part of your dad’s idea, or yours?
John Bowis: The apartment building was built over top of the historic Bethesda Theater. That was part of the original Sidney Lust property.
Andy Ockershausen: I remember it very well.
John Bowis: And my grandfather bought half the property, but didn’t buy the theater, so we operate on that side, then we rent a piece of property on the other side, so we surround the theater, but then the theater got sold, and Bozzuto built a high-rise apartment building right there.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s not your building? I thought that belonged to Chevy Chase.
John Bowis: No.
Andy Ockershausen: Chevyland.
John Bowis: No.
Andy Ockershausen: Here we are with Chevyland, and Chevy’s hitting walls, and you’re feeling it, and you got the opportunity to get an import car, or at least, supposedly an import car. They probably build the whole thing in this country. But that made Chevyland obsolete, so you became Chevy Chase Cars again.
Name Change – Why Chevy Chase Cars and Acura
John Bowis: Right. We dropped the Chevyland. We started to sell other makes, and really called ourselves Chevy Chase Cars. We still use that name, Chevy Chase Cars. But about 15, 16 years ago, I opened an Acura store, and that just sort of took off. That was a really great product for . . ., because timing was great. The product line for Acura was expanding. They brought out the TL, which was a home run. Then they brought out the MDX, which was a home run.
Andy Ockershausen: And your service business was continuing.
John Bowis: The service business was continuing.
Andy Ockershausen: Nobody’s left in downtown Bethesda.
John Bowis: Exactly.
Andy Ockershausen: You have a captured market.
John Bowis: Exactly. We expanded with Acura, and then in the 2008, 2009, GM was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and that was really a dangerous time for us, because our Acura store-
Andy Ockershausen: If you don’t have cars, you’re out of business.
John Bowis: Well, I was remembering my grandfather, when he opened up in ’39, he put his life savings and my grandmother’s wedding ring into the business, and a year and a half later, World War II starts.
Andy Ockershausen: The automobile-
John Bowis: And there was no more new cars to be sold, so my grandfather had to survive in the early ’40s as a used car dealer.
Andy Ockershausen: Right.
John Bowis: And service. Our strong service business-
Andy Ockershausen: Reputation.
John Bowis: … reputation really went all the way back to World War II, where that’s how we survived as a repair shop, as opposed to a new car dealer.
Andy Ockershausen: Now you’re going to have a huge Marriott building in your neighborhood, and all those people are going to want service if nothing else. You’re on the precipice of a new world anyway, John. But it’s so great to hear your story and think how much Chevy Chase Cars and your family has meant to Bethesda. And being a friend of Jim Gibbons, as I said, I know about the growth, and I knew that Fred was a big football fan.
We’ve been talking to John Bowis, and we’re going to be back in talk to John about Tomorrowland, with what he is really predicting for the future. This is Andy Ockershausen, and this is Our Town.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen, brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Our Town. Andy Ockershausen, and we’re talking to John Bowis about what was Chevyland, and now we’re going to talk about Tomorrowland. John excited me when he started talking about his pet project, and that is driverless cars.
John Bowis: Right.
Andy Ockershausen: What is going to happen to us, John?
Autonomous Cars – The Way of the Future
John Bowis: Well, the world as we know it is about to change really soon. We’re going to have, in a year, maybe two, we’re going to start to see fully autonomous cars. They’re going to start off in fleets with probably like taxi cabs and Ubers, and stuff like that. But in the not too distant future, you and I are going to be able to buy a fully autonomous car where the computer and all of its sensors are going to drive you from Point A to Point B. You’re going to get out of the car, and it’s going to go find a parking space, some place away from your office building, or something. Or you’re going ride in an autonomous Uber or taxi, and they’re going to drop you off at work, and go and pick up another fare.
Andy Ockershausen: Just keep busy.
John Bowis: Just keep busy.
Andy Ockershausen: And this evolution, or revolution that’s coming, it’s evolution of the car, there’ll be no steering wheel, and no-
John Bowis: No brake. No steering wheel, no brake pedal, no accelerator.
Andy Ockershausen: Nothing for the passenger, correct? Just get in and relax.
John Bowis: Exactly. You put in your destination on your Smartphone, maybe your Smartphone’s docked some place on the dash.
Andy Ockershausen: Like they do now with Uber and so forth.
John Bowis: Right.
Andy Ockershausen: John, but like you say, this is not something in the future, this is coming right now.
John Bowis: It’s coming now. Yeah, there’s a lot of people that think it’s still 20, 30 years away, but it’s not. I think in the Washington Post recently, just a few days ago, General Motors announced that they are ready to go with a fully autonomous car. No steering wheel, no brake pedals. I think there was a picture published of the interior of the car.
Andy Ockershausen: I saw the article. Amazing.
John Bowis: And they’re waiting on government approval. They’re ready to go. They’re ready to start to bring this to market in 2019, and they are petitioning the government to allow it to happen. Because right now, there’s regulations that-
Andy Ockershausen: Oh I know, to prevent it.
John Bowis: … that prevent it. The automobile companies need to work with the government agencies and the public policy makers and ensure that the regulations don’t hold up this technology.
Andy Ockershausen: And then they’re going to have to deal with the states also, but John, how about the trucking industry? Aren’t they trying to be pioneers in this?
John Bowis: Originally, we thought that the trucking industry would be the first ones that had the driverless cars. Part of what’s going on … I think autonomous cars are going to be every bit as transformational and beneficial as the industrial revolution was. It’s going to change our lives.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh my!
John Bowis: Mostly for the good. The one downside to autonomous cars is that the most prevalent job in the US is some iteration of a vehicle driver. It’s a taxi driver, Uber, delivery vehicle, all of the iterations of jobs where the person is driving a vehicle, that’s the most prevalent job in the US.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s a lot of employees.
John Bowis: That’s a lot of workers, and probably the only downside to autonomous cars is that in maybe 10 years, those jobs are going to be completely gone. We need to figure out how to find jobs for those people.
Andy Ockershausen: But in the growth and the evolution of our society, that has happened before in other way, and eventually those people would be absorbed in some other part of our economy. You just can’t get rid of them.
John Bowis: Well, that’s what’s happened with every new technology.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, absolutely.
John Bowis: New technology brings new job opportunities and then it reduces other job opportunities. I fully believe that America’s going to be able to adjust to this, and-
Andy Ockershausen: Absorb.
John Bowis: … and absorb it. But it’s really going to be transformational to our daily lives, how we live, the growth of cities, the growth of suburbs and rural areas. Because, if you think about it, driverless cars are going to make living in an urban environment so much more convenient. Because right now, it’s expensive, it’s a hassle, transportation in the city is sort of a hassle. Where do you park your car? In many cities a single parking space is as much as the cost of an apartment.
Andy Ockershausen: Right, as a rental. The parking place is as expensive as the rental of the apartment.
John Bowis: What driverless cars does, is it allows people that live in urban areas to not own a car. They can share a car. We’re going to go from about the cost of a … Right now, when you figure … Somebody buys a new car, they drive it 12,000, 15,000 miles a year, the cost of the car, the payment, the insurance, the gas, the maintenance on it, it works out to about a dollar per mile in cost. Driverless cars is going to drive that cost below 50 cents. We could be talking about 30 or 40 cents per mile driven, as opposed to a dollar.
And if you live in the city, and you’re willing to share a car with a stranger, that cost could be 15 or 20 cents.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: How is that going to affect your business, as someone who sells autos?
Embracing the Change – Autonomous Cars Will Create Service Boom
John Bowis: I love it when people are sympathetic to car dealers. I’m glad you asked. It’s going to be transformational, there’s no question. Our industry-
Andy Ockershausen: You will change.
John Bowis: Our industry is under assault, it’s going to change, but my job is not to fight that change, my job is to figure out a path forward-
Andy Ockershausen: Embrace it.
John Bowis: … and embrace it. What I think is going to happen is, the … We have about 250 million cars in the fleet of vehicles that are on the road in the US. That’s probably going to drop in half with driverless cars. But you’ve got to remember, you’re going to go … We’re going to have a lot of shared cars. The vehicle miles traveled is not going to drop in half, the vehicle miles traveled, if anything is going to go up. If you have a family that has two cars, husband drives 15,000 miles a year on one car, the wife drives 15,000 miles a year on the other car, they might be able to share one autonomous car in the future.
They still have 15,000 miles apiece of need, right? Instead of two cars having 15,000 miles a year of use, now you’re going to have one car with 30,0000 miles of use. Plus, driving is going more convenient, because you can go to that fancy restaurant downtown, and you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving. You don’t have to worry about parking.
Andy Ockershausen: 30 bucks to park now, downtown.
John Bowis: You don’t have to worry about those hassles, so you’re actually going to probably use your car more, so the vehicle miles traveled is going to go up. The total fleet of automobiles is going to probably get cut in half, maybe even less than that, but the fleet is going to turn over twice as fast, if not more. Because vehicle miles traveled are predicted to either increase by 20%, some people think it’s going to increase by 50%, vehicle miles traveled is how I make my money. Okay? I make my money by servicing customer’s cars. I don’t care whether it’s a privately owned car, or whether it’s a shared car, or whether it’s a corporate fleet. A corporate fleet’s not going … they’re not going to fix their own cars. They’re still going to rely on dealerships, so you’ll have the technicians and the parts and the tools that can fix those cars. Our service business is going to boom with autonomous cars.
Andy Ockershausen: You’re going to embrace this change.
John Bowis: We’re going to embrace it.
Andy Ockershausen: There’ll be other changes in the driverless cars, as you say. There’ll be progress in the car. Who knows what it will be? It might be air ride or something, but it’s inevitable that progress is going to happen with the driverless car.
John Bowis: Exactly.
Andy Ockershausen: It’s all about money too, John. Is this going to save the nation some money down the road?
Government Mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economies Motivate Car Manufacturers to Bring Autonomous Cars to Market
John Bowis: Well, you know, the reason people ask, “Why are we in such a rush to bring autonomous cars?” There’s some detractors that think autonomous cars are going to put the automobile manufacturers out of business. That’s not true. Google’s not going to make their own car. They’re not going to manufacture their own car and sell millions and millions of cars. In your laptop computer, you have a sticker that says Intel Inside. You’ve got a lot of suppliers that want to be like Intel. They want to be the technology that powers an autonomous car. But you’re still going to rely on Ford, and General Motors, and Honda, and Toyota. You’re still going to rely on those companies to manufacture cars. They have the expertise to manufacture the car.
The manufacturers are embracing this, as well. They’re rapidly moving forward to this world of autonomous cars. And the reason for that is, the government has mandated corporate average fuel economies.
Andy Ockershausen: Right. Getting back to the fuel world.
John Bowis: It used to be that the CAFE, Corporate Average Fuel Economy, it used to be that the CAFE was 24 miles per gallon average. Then it’s gone up to 35 miles per gallon. Last year the CAFE was 35 miles to the gallon, but the best full line manufacturer was Honda, and they only got 30 miles to the gallon. In the year 2025, the government has mandated 54 and a half miles per gallon.
Andy Ockershausen: Wow!
John Bowis: We’re never going to get there.
Andy Ockershausen: Never.
Autonomous Cars – Safer and Better Fuel Economy
John Bowis: Because you have to have a safe car, which right now is a 4,000 pound car with multiple … six airbags, and all the steel and so forth. And yet, we also want great fuel economy. The answer is autonomous electric cars. That brings it all together. You get a lightweight car, 1,000 pound or less. You get high fuel economy equivalent with an electric car.
Andy Ockershausen: Would it not be safer, too, John? Protecting safety?
John Bowis: The industry … 94% of vehicle crashes are human error. When you take the human out of it, and you replace it with a computer with a suite of sensors, you’re going to get 94% fewer accidents. And then when you add connectivity, where vehicles can talk amongst themselves, and also vehicle to vehicle, and vehicle to infrastructure communication, we can probably get to near zero accidents. That’s amazing.
Andy Ockershausen: Of driver problem, right?
John Bowis: Right.
Andy Ockershausen: It may be a problem with the car, but that happens with any new technology.
John Bowis: You get much better fuel economy. You get near zero accidents, near zero traffic fatalities. You get more convenience. You get cheaper transportation. It’s . . .
Andy Ockershausen: It’s win/win proposition for the consumer, correct?
John Bowis: From vantage point, it’s really utopia.
Andy Ockershausen: I believe it. But John, it’s so interesting to know that this is not something that’s going to happen, it’s happening now.
John Bowis: It’s happening now.
Andy Ockershausen: And it will be very fast when it takes off, correct?
Experiencing Autonomous Taxis and Ubers Will Create Interest
John Bowis: Yes. Absolutely. We’re all going to get experience with autonomous taxi cabs and Ubers and stuff when we travel. Once we have a little bit of experience with it, I think we’re going to embrace it.
Andy Ockershausen: I would hope so. Now, what is this going to do to Bethesda? You’ll still have your service facility. You’ll still want the people, the people people who still want to have things. They want their cars to look good, so you’ll make them look good.
John Bowis: Right now, you drive the car into the dealership to have it repaired. You wait, or you pick up a loaner and you go on your way. In the future, you’re just going to dial up on an app on your Smartphone, you’re going to send your car from your garage to the dealership to get repaired, and then the dealership is going to send it back without an occupant in the car. That’s how that’s going to work.
Andy Ockershausen: It’s wonderful world. I hope that I’m around long enough to see it, because I remember General Motors and watching the thing at the World’s Fair, what’s going to happen, and people would say, “That’s preposterous. It’s not going to happen.” They were talking about driverless cars in 1939.
John Bowis: Exactly.
Andy Ockershausen: But now it’s here.
John Bowis: Exactly.
Andy Ockershausen: John, you’re a fountain of information. You’re so enthusiastic. It means a lot to you, and I hope your people in your business understand. You were in Switzerland, correct? You went to the International Auto-
Autonomous Electric Car Industry Moving Rapidly
John Bowis: I was at the Geneva Auto show last year, and we saw a lot of prototypes of autonomous electric cars, and it’s … The industry’s moving rapidly.
Andy Ockershausen: The world, correct?
John Bowis: The world is moving toward it, yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: Were you in Davos? Is that where you were in-
John Bowis: Not in Davos. We were in Geneva.
Andy Ockershausen: Of course. And you were staying at a little motel. You didn’t stay at the beautiful place. Yeah.
But John Bowis, thank God for the Bowis family and all what you’ve done for Bethesda, and for Chevy Chase, and for us, and Bethesda. And we’re so happy that you’re here, and your family still going strong. Our Town welcomes you. Remember, Our Town is everything within 100 miles of where we’re sitting.
John Bowis: Exactly.
Andy Ockershausen: John Bowis, thank you very much.
John Bowis: Thank you, Andy.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen. This is Our Town.
Recording: You’ve been listening to Our Town, Season Three, presented by GEICO, our hometown favorite, with your host, Andy Ockershausen. New Our Town episodes are released each Tuesday and Thursday. Drop us a line with your comments or suggestions. See us on Facebook or visit our website at OurTownDC.com. Our special thanks to Ken Hunter, our technical director, and WMAL radio in Washington, DC, for hosting our podcast. And thanks to GEICO. 15 minutes can save you 15% or more on car insurance.