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Dirty secrets

Australia

As Australia grinds through its sixth year of drought, a dry wind of change is blowing across its car culture and providing opportunities for entrepreneurs. With water supplies plummeting, the weekend ritual of hosing the car down at home is now banned in many states, with motorists being required to use water-efficient commercial car washes. This move has boosted the industry, says the Australian Car Wash Association. Membership has jumped 20 per cent in recent months, with businesses reporting a steady stream of new customers.

While an efficient car wash can use as little as 19 litres of water on each car – a wash at home can use up to 150 litres – there are waterless operations, such as Sydney’s Ecowash Mobile, that are a hit with environmentally concerned drivers.

The company started in 2004 and now has 43 outlets across Australia. It also operates in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and France. North America is next in line, as are Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Belgium.

Co-founder Jim Cornish says water efficiency was not the impetus. Instead, he and business partner Stewart Nicholls wanted to offer a car wash that could come to the customer, even if no water was available – outside your office, for example. The process uses a polymer compound that traps dirt and is then wiped off.

Cornish says the current drought means the waterless nature of the operation is paying extra dividends. “There’s an increasing focus on water restrictions in Australia. People need to think about the choices they make,” he insists.

“In France, the response has been great and there’s lots of talk about the benefits of a waterless car wash,” he says. In the Middle East it is a different story as desalination plants mean that water in the desert is, ironically, not a problem. Instead, it is the convenience of having their car washed wherever they are that appeals to wealthy residents in the region.“The thing that’s driven our growth in the Middle East is the lifestyle aspect of the business: we come to them.”

A former rally driver, Cornish understands the connections people have with their cars and why they will pay to keep them looking good. With a waterless wash costing up to AU$170 (€104) – compared to about AU$40 (€25) for a standard one – it is not cheap, but if water supplies continue to fall, this may become the norm.

Treasure islands

The Pacific

After years – some would say decades – of neglect, the US is embarking on a diplomatic offensive to highlight the strategic nature of its western flank in the vast Pacific. This means charming the dozens of small island states (each with a UN vote, remember) dotted across the ocean. The US State Department recently announced 2007 as its “Year of the Pacific” and is dispensing both cash – such as $66m (€48.7m) to Vanuatu as first recipient of President Bush’s Millennium Challenge Fund – and personnel to the region. In June, Bush will host the first-ever meeting with Pacific heads of state in Washington, in a clear signal that the US intends to remain a player in the region.

In March, Bush also met New Zealand’s Prime Minister Helen Clark (above). The get-together marked a thawing of relations that turned frosty in the 1980s when then New Zealand PM David Lange declared his nation “nuclear free” and banned visiting US warships. Now, the US wants New Zealand and Australia to be its “eyes and ears” in the Pacific. The reason for the new focus is a response to China’s diplomatic moves in the Pacific (see Monocle issue 3).

This year, Guam, a US territory seeing a huge military build-up, will host anti-terrorism exercises, underscoring the key role of the US Pacific territories.

Pipe dreams

Australia

Nimbin, on the New South Wales coast, is famed as a counterculture town – its annual MardiGrass festival campaigns for marijuana decriminalization. Now locals fear their world could go up in smoke. It’s not the police they fear but acquisitive developers from chic Byron Bay (AU$3.5m for a beachfront house). What a drag.

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