From self-driving cars and electric vehicles to the decline of the traditional sedan, the auto industry is grappling with change on many fronts today, and the retail side is no exception. Upstarts such as Tesla and its direct-sales model are challenging the established dealer-franchise model, and now, consumers have a new alternative to buying or leasing a car.
Vehicle subscription services are proliferating among automobile brands and third-party companies. It’s a novel idea: Pay a flat monthly fee for your car that typically covers insurance, routine maintenance and roadside assistance, and cancel when you’re done. There’s also the ability to swap for a different model or a newer version of the same model.
Subscription providers tout their services as simplifying the car-buying or -leasing process, with no haggling and much smaller down payments. The services also render a car’s depreciating value irrelevant, since it simply goes back to the subscription provider when you’re done.
Subscription services are targeted to millennials and other consumers who need a vehicle but aren’t necessarily interested in ownership; as solutions for people on temporary work relocations or others for whom a long-term lease makes no sense; or simply for enthusiasts who find the ability to drive multiple different models appealing. In some cases, companies tout the services as being less expensive than traditional leasing, once you factor in insurance, free oil changes and tire rotations and other things. But many of them, frankly, are expensive. It’s perhaps no coincidence that luxury brands were among the first to embrace the trend.
Here’s a rundown of what’s on offer and what may be coming soon.
Access by BMW
BMW launched its Access by BMW as a pilot program in the Nashville area in April 2018. It gives you access to luxury sedans such as the 330i, plug-in hybrids like the 530e iPerformance, crossovers like the X5 xDrive35i and performance cars such as the M5, with the ability to switch vehicles as often as you like, or to keep the one you have as long as you want.
There are now three membership plan tiers: Icon, at $1,099 a month; Legend, at $1,399; and BMW M, which costs $2,699 and offers access to the automaker’s top-of-the-line M performance models. There’s a $575 activation fee at first delivery, and you can move between plans at any time, with your monthly fee prorated accordingly. You can also pause your subscription at any time for a $200 fee.
Membership includes insurance ($1 million liability policy with a $1,000 deductible for drivers), maintenance, full-detail washes and roadside assistance, and there’s no limit on switching vehicles. You make your requests via a mobile app that asks you about your needs, and a concierge delivers a vehicle that suits those needs, freshly detailed, fully charged or filled up with fuel, to you at your desired time. You can cancel at any time, and BMW says it will end your subscription after the current month expires. Mileage is capped at 2,000 per month.
Autoblog’s verdict: It ain’t cheap, even by BMW standards. But if money isn’t an issue, the ability to switch in and out of Bavarian luxury vehicles is definitely a novelty.
Launched in 2018 in Nashville and Philadelphia, Mercedes-Benz Collection works with a mobile app, which you use to apply for membership and request a vehicle to be delivered by a concierge wherever you like. You can flip vehicles as many times as you like, and you’re also encouraged to rate your experience with each vehicle to help the service better match you with the right car. There are no mileage limits, and maintenance, roadside assistance, insurance and flips â again, unlimited in quantity â are included. Insurance includes $1 million in liability insurance coverage, $2,000 medical payments to offset any out-of-pocket or deductible costs, and a $1,000 deductible.
A $495 activation fee starts you off, and there are two membership plans: Signature, which runs $1,095 a month, and Reserve, which costs $1,595. The former features vehicles such as the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 sedan, the GLC 300 SUV and the SLC 300 Roadster, while Reserve offers the AMG C43 sedan, the GLE 350 SUV and the AMG SLC 43 Roadster. Vehicles are within the three most recent model years, and you’re free to move between plans, with your monthly subscription fee prorated. You can also pause it for a $200 fee. The program has a minimum 32-day commitment.
Autoblog’s verdict: Slightly more affordable than its prime German competitor, Mercedes appears to have dropped a more-expensive Premier tier, which carried a monthly bill approaching $3,000. Your move, BMW.
Audi picked the Dallas-Fort Worth area to launch its subscription pilot, which it calls Audi Select. Five models are on offer: the A4, the A5 Cabriolet, the S5 Coupe and the Q5 and Q7 crossovers, all from the current or prior model year. For $1,395, you get two swaps per month, or a maximum 180 days in any single vehicle, plus unlimited mileage, insurance, maintenance, 24/7 roadside assistance, full car detailing with every swap and so on. Also included is two travel rental days per month from Silvercar, which offers 25 locations in 19 cities. At the time of this writing, the company was also offering the first month free for new members with a three-month commitment.
Audi Select membership is a 12-month commitment, but you can cancel at any time free of charge, so long as you give at least seven days’ notice before the end of a monthly billing cycle. Insurance is up to $300,000 liability, with a $2,000 medical payment in Texas and $1,000 deductibles for both comprehensive and collision.
Autoblog’s verdict: Pairing the service with Silvercar is definitely a nice perk if you travel regularly.
Canvas, a subsidiary of Ford based in San Francisco, says its mission is to rethink car ownership to meet the needs of modern drivers. For now, Canvas is limited to Los Angeles and the Bay Area, and while it offers mostly Ford and Lincoln vehicles, models from other brands are available, with lightly used, off-lease vehicles that stretch back a few model years. There’s also a newer Lincoln + Canvas program that fuses some of the benefits Lincoln offers to its customers, including concierge support and access to the Lincoln Way app.
Users are directed to Canvas’ website, where you pick a car and subscribe for anywhere from one to 12 months, with lower rates for longer commitments. You can either pick up your new wheels or have them delivered. Insurance covers up to $300,000 in individual liability and $5,000 in medical payments and carries $500 deductibles for comprehensive and collision coverage. Maintenance is covered at approved service locations, including parts and labor (pickup and delivery are free for 2017 Lincoln drivers). When your subscription ends, you can renew it or simply walk away, with a unique guarantee that offers a full refund if you’re not satisfied within the first three days. There’s also a referral program that offers both existing and new members $150 in credit.
Pricing is a bit more complicated than many other subscription services. It’s based on the type of vehicle, of course, but also the length of your subscription â again, with lower rates the longer your commitment â and how much you drive. So you start by picking your vehicle segment, starting with sedans at $329 a month and going up to luxury Lincoln vehicles at $509 per month. Then you decide how long you want to subscribe, with a 12-month term adding $50 a month and a single-month subscription running $375. Then you pick your mileage plan. The 500 miles-per-month tier is free, while you can pick 850- and 1,250-mile-per-month tiers up to unlimited, which tacks on an extra $100 each month. And yes, you can switch mileage tiers on the fly.
What’s that all mean? If you pick a sedan and go the cheapest route â a 12-month plan capped at 500 miles per month â the cost is $379 per month. On the other hand, if you want a luxury vehicle for just a month with unlimited mileage, it’ll set you back a cool $984.
We searched for cars using the San Francisco Bay Area as our location and didn’t find anything less expensive than a 2015 Ford Focus SE sedan for $355 a month (the Ford Fiesta, priced at $329 per month, was said to be “coming soon”). There also were, when we checked, no Lincoln models in stock, with larger Ford SUVs such as the Explorer and Flex topping out the range.
Autoblog’s verdict: Finally, a subscription service for the masses! As long as you don’t mind driving older-model vehicles, this service appears well-suited to consumers who are uninterested in traditional vehicle ownership but aren’t a part of the so-called 1 percent. Keep in mind that Ford is phasing out sedans from its lineup, so assuming Canvas has a long-term future, it seems safe to assume the selection of Ford passenger cars will dwindle over time, though that’s probably several years away.
As you might guess by now, Porsche’s subscription service isn’t cheap, but it does offer you access to a lot of great cars and fun driving, with no mileage limits and unlimited flips. There are two plans, both of which include base and S models. Launch costs $2,000 per month and features eight variants of the 718 Cayman, 718 Boxster, Macan and Cayenne. The other plan, Accelerate, costs $3,000 and offers 22 variants. It offers the four Launch models, some in higher-performance versions, plus the 911 Carrera and the Panamera. All are from the current model year.
As with many other services, the program will pick the perfect vehicle for your needs, which you enter into an app, if you want to go that route. Insurance coverage is $1 million liability coverage, plus $300,000 for an uninsured motorist, $2,000 medical payments and a $1,000 deductible. You can keep a vehicle for as long or as briefly as you want, and you’re free to move between the different plans. A $500 fee to join is nonrefundable.
Autoblog’s verdict: Sure, it’s priced well beyond the means of most of the common proletariat, and many of these cars can be leased for far less. But it’s not every day that you get the opportunity to swap Porsches as your daily driver, with no limits on mileage. Porsche also added two new programs called Porsche Drive and Porsche Host that allow you get behind the wheel for anywhere from four hours to a week. In addition to being pricey, Porsche Passport is currently offered only in Atlanta, home to Porsche’s North American headquarters. Another drawback: There’s no ability to pause your membership. Proof that nothing, reader, is in fact perfect.
Book by Cadillac
Book by Cadillac was one of the first luxury-vehicle subscription services when it launched in March 2017, but it’s currently on hiatus and is not accepting new members. Cadillac opted to “temporarily pause” its $1,800-a-month service effective Dec. 1, 2018, after it said the service proved more costly than expected.
However, it’s expected to relaunch sometime in the first half of 2019 and lean more heavily on the luxury brand’s dealer network for things such as business operations, maintenance and repairs. Not a lot is known yet about how it will look, but Cadillac has said the service will relaunch as a pilot program in select cities, with less of a focus on customers being able to swap vehicles. The original program allows up to 18 vehicle swaps per year, but Cadillac said it saw fewer customers doing that than it expected.
Autoblog’s verdict: TBD
Care by Volvo
Volvo announced its subscription program at the 2017 L.A. Auto Show, tying it to the XC40, which launched the following spring. It’s since added the S60 sedan. The vehicles are currently offered for monthly payments starting at $700 and $750, respectively, for 24 months, or an extra $100 for R-Design versions. There’s also a $500 deposit to get started.
Subscriptions come with a 15,000-mile per-year cap, and you can switch to a newer vehicle after 12 months by renewing for another 24 months. You get 24/7 concierge service, maintenance, wear-and-tear replacements for things like wiper blades and brakes and insurance coverage through Liberty Mutual with $250,000 bodily injury protection per person and $500,000 bodily injury coverage per accident, with a $500 deductible for both comprehensive and collision coverage.
Autoblog’s verdict: Care by Volvo is one of the few subscription services that isn’t geographically limited, though the two-year commitment may put off some customers. While the monthly rate has increased somewhat since the program was originally announced starting at $600, it’s still a relative deal. Care by Volvo also offers the ability to purchase the Volvo after the subscription runs its course.
Lexus Complete Lease
“Don’t call it a subscription” seems to be the order at Lexus, which describes its new Complete Lease service as a “full-service lease program” exclusively for the new UX subcompact crossover. It’s offered through roughly 80 dealers in seven states: California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
Complete Lease includes a two-year term with a total of 20,000 miles allowed. You get all scheduled maintenance, two years of connected vehicle services including SiriusXM satellite radio and Lexus Enform Remote Destination Assist on models equipped with navigation. Insurance is through Travelers with a $500 deductible, a $250,000 per-person and $500,000 per-accident bodily injury limit and $250,000 property injury limit, with other rates and coverage that vary by state.
There’s no word yet on monthly rates; Autoblog sought that information from Lexus to no avail. But we know that the UX is the most affordable Lexus model, starting at $33,025 for the UX 200 and $35,025 for the hybrid UX 250h. Both are offered under the program.
Autoblog’s verdict: It’s hard to fully judge without pricing information. But from our personal experience, it can be tough to keep within a 10,000-mile-per-year limit. The two-year term also makes it less flexible than other services.
Currently more of an owner-loyalty program, Jeep says it plans to expand Jeep Wave into a subscription program sometime in 2019 in the northeastern U.S. It’ll reportedly offer Good, Better and Best tier plans â nothing like truth in advertising â with different options for insurance coverage and concierge services. It also plans to launch a borrowing service to encourage Jeep owners to try out other Fiat Chrysler brands, including Dodge, Alfa Romeo and Maserati.
There are no prices yet, and we don’t know what vehicles will be offered or what’s included.
Autoblog’s verdict: TBD
Touted as a “commitment-free” and paperless end-to-end solution, Fair uses a mobile app, through which customers get prequalified using your driver’s license and bank account. The company then runs analytics to determine your eligibility and the range of monthly payments you can afford. Then you shop for cars in your area, pick one and sign for it in the app. You pay a start payment that varies by what you’re pre-qualified for and the vehicle you select, and it applies each time you subscribe to a new vehicle. Fair helps coordinate delivery or pickup.
The service offers more than 30 different brands, all pre-owned or certified pre-owned cars, trucks and SUVs from participating dealers. All are less than six years old, with less than 70,000 miles on them. And there are some real deals in the mix: We found options as low as $105 a month (a 2015 Nissan Versa and a 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage), though you can go much higher than that with cushier vehicles, reportedly including a McLaren 570S for around $4,000 a month. You’re also charged a one-time start payment on each car that is based on the value of each vehicle.
Plans include a limited warranty, 24/7 roadside assistance, routine maintenance, insurance with a $500 deductible (or you can use your own) and protection against damages such as minor dents, worn tires and chipped windshields. Most vehicles are limited to 10,000 miles a year, though you can pre-purchase extra miles and be refunded if you don’t use them all.
Autoblog’s verdict: There’s a lot to like here, starting with the affordable prices and a policy that allows users to opt out at any time. You also get your payment prorated if you return your vehicle in the middle of a billing cycle, and you have the ability to return a car for a full refund within three days and 100 miles. Fair also offers widespread availability, with dealers in at least 28 cities, northern Virginia and statewide in Connecticut and New Jersey.