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SUBSCRIBE TO AN AUTOMAKER?

YEARS AGO, September 2001 specifically, in the R&T piece “Whither the Automobile?,” futurists at American Honda told me that automaker subscriptions were a coming trend.

“Whither the Automobile?,” R&T, September 2001.

That is, rather than buying or leasing a particular car, you’d pay a fee to a particular automaker and receive the option of using that marque’s different products at will. Do you prefer your commute in something nimble and sporty? Need an SUV for a family trek? Just curious to try out a new model? No problem.

Recent articles in Automotive News, online and radio reports from Bloomberg, and Internet sources suggest the concept of automaker subscription is here and now, though not necessarily always experiencing resounding success. What follows are tidbits on the matter gleaned from several sources.

Audi. “Audi Tests $1395-a-Month Subscriptions in Dallas,” by Larry P. Vellequette, Automotive News, September 17, 2018, describes a pilot program involving five dealerships in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Audi A5 Convertible, one of the Audi Select options.

For this monthly fee, Audi Select customers have access to an A4 sedan, A5 convertible, S5 coupe, or Q5 or Q7 crossover, “subject to availability.” Subscribers can change vehicles up to twice a month and hold any particular one for up to six months. Audi Select customers must be at least 25 years old with a valid driver’s license “free of major moving violations.”

Porsche. Last year, Porsche instituted its Porsche Passport, starting at $2000/month and offering unlimited swaps, unrestricted mileage and on-demand access to its lineup. This year, variations on the subscriber theme are apparent in Porsche Drive and Porsche Host. “2 New Rental Programs Offer ‘a Taste for Porsche’ ” by Urvaksh Karkaria, Automotive News, September 17, 2018, gives details for each. “The Porsche Drive pilot, launched in Atlanta, offers hourly, daily, and weekly rentals. A week’s worth of fun with a Porsche 911 will set a customer back $2909, before taxes and fees. Porsche will deliver a vehicle within two hours of a reservation.”

Image from Automotive News, September 17, 2018.

Porsche Host is a venture between Porsche Digital and Turo, the latter akin to an automotive Airbnb. The program is to launch in Los Angeles and San Francisco on October 8, 2018. According to Automotive News, “Turo curated an initial group of about 20 Porsche owners for a pilot based on their location and customer service scores. ‘It’s an opportunity to take our best hosts and make them Porsche evangelists for our guests,’ Turo spokesman Steve Webb said.”

Lincoln. Lincoln offered yet another variation on the plan early this year through Canvas, an online portal owned by Ford. “Lincoln Rethinks Subscription Experiment,” by Michael Martinez, Automotive News, September 24, 2018, describes “Scant consumer demand in California pilot.”

And, to my mind, no wonder: The program was launched in Los Angeles and San Francisco early in 2018. Its monthly fees range from around $500 to $950, including comprehensive insurance, maintenance, warranty, and roadside assistance. This last spiff, though, is non-trivial. Cars in the program are the Lincoln MKZ, MKC, MKX, or Continental—used ones from the 2015 or 2017 model years!

A Lincoln spokesman told Automotive News, “If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said this is the next big thing. A lot of people are struggling to make the math work.”

A Lot of People. The website cnet.com offers “A Roadshow’s Guide to Car Subscriptions, an Alternative to Buying or Leasing,” by Kyle Hyatt, September 12, 2018. This most informative article lists BMW, Cadillac, Jaguar Land Rover, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Volvo offering automaker subscriptions of one sort or another, many of them pilot programs, often regional. It also cites third-party services, some like Canvas aligned with specific automakers.

A Rich—or Foolish—Person’s Toy? Automotive News, September 24, 2018, cites Edmunds senior analyst Ivan Drury saying “At these price points that we’re seeing, [a subscription] virtually makes no sense to anyone.”

Drury calls such programs a “rich person’s toy.” To some, another qualifying adjective may come to mind. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

3 comments on “SUBSCRIBE TO AN AUTOMAKER?

  1. jlalbrecht64
    September 30, 2018

    This is definitely a “rich person’s toy.” I’m very fortunate to have a (relatively at this point) late model BMW that sits 90% of the time in my garage. A BMW lease plus insurance is not cheap, particularly when considering I drive on average about 4000 miles a year. And yet this idea at this price doesn’t interest me at all. I expect this is an idea that only interests people in the top 3% or so of income who ALSO have automotive needs that are cyclical. As in, they need a sedan most of the time, want a coupe or convertible semi-regularly, and an SUV a couple times a year.

    To my mind, a smarter business model would be for dealers to offer discounted brand rentals to loyal customers. Dealers already have demo cars. Increase this number and offer the additional cars as rentals. This is a business model that would also help dealers as automotive electrification eats into their service profits (where they make most of their money). You read it here first!

    • jlalbrecht64
      September 30, 2018

      Just thought, maybe dealers could also use some of their late-model trade-ins to widen and deepen the pool of available vehicles.

  2. Gene Herbert
    September 30, 2018

    Steve Jobs used to drive around without a license plate. He liked to keep current with the latest models. Since he leased, he traded them so fast he was always under the state timeline for picking up a new plate.

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