Owning your car might become as out of fashion as owning your music, movies or software, all of which now are dominated by subscription services. Or not; technology is rapidly changing both consumer habits and automobiles, and it's anyone's guess how either will look in 20 years. But some automakers aren't waiting to at least test whether future drivers might prefer a car "subscription" that wraps the major expenses into a single monthly payment and, in some cases, also lets them change their mind each month on what they want to drive.
The convenience can come with a substantial monthly cost, however, that adds up to more than you'd pay in the long term for buying or leasing and paying your own expenses. And it's the luxury brands leading the way with subscription offerings. But the list is growing, and Lexus recently announced that it will for the first time join with a subscription alternative for its 2019 UX small SUV, with more details due by the time it goes on sale in December.
Subscriptions also soon will get more democratic. At Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' business plan presentation June 1, Jeep brand head Mike Manley announced that the company would launch a subscription option in 2019. There were few details beyond that an all-in monthly payment would offer "access to FCA vehicles" (more than Jeeps?) in "Good, Better, Best" tiers presenting varying options for vehicles, insurance and concierge services.
That follows the model of most other subscriptions being tested, in most cases in just one or a few U.S. markets. All typically have an all-in payment that includes a car, insurance and scheduled maintenance, with no down payment, though some charge a sign-up fee. Most also offer some option to switch to a different vehicle on a monthly basis or even more often. And all so far offer sign-up and subscription management via a dedicated phone app because, well, anything else would be too 20th century.
There are, however, also variations in insurance coverage, provisions for damage beyond normal usage, maintenance coverage and other details. And some offer a wider selection of vehicles than others (Lexus will start with just one) as well as in the age of the vehicles — from Volvo's new vehicles and Porsche's promise of the current model year to Ford's Canvas selection of off-lease cars that currently includes vehicles as old as 2015 models.
There also are third-party startups, not connected with automakers, in various markets. They offer subscriptions for mostly used or specialty vehicles (one in Los Angeles specializes in electric cars). But they vary much more widely in pricing and what they offer.
If a car subscription sounds tempting to you, here is a rundown of the current offerings from major automakers and what you get:
Vehicles: Currently two models of the 2019 XC40 SUV with select option packages. Coming are three versions of the redesigned 2019 S60 sedan. Volvo has said that the coming new V60 wagon will be offered, and eventually the service will extend throughout the lineup.
Price and details: This is the only subscription service now available nationally and also the most similar to a traditional lease, with a longer commitment and less flexibility than other subscription services. There is no down payment (a $500 deposit goes toward the first payment) and prices vary by vehicle and trim level. They currently range from $650 to $850 per month (with a price still to be set for a Polestar-engineered performance version of the S60 hybrid).
Subscribers can sign up online or on a phone using the Care by Volvo app. The subscription is for 24 months, with the option to switch to a new vehicle after 12 months and start a new 24-month commitment. The subscription allows 15,000 miles per year and includes insurance and scheduled maintenance (including wear items such as wipers). It also provides for repair or replacement of damaged tires or wheels and up to $1,000 at the end for excess wear and tear, such as small dents, gouged wheels, etc.
Availability: Nashville, Tenn., and Philadelphia
Vehicles: Two subscription price tiers each offer a selection of sedans, SUVs, coupes and roadsters, including a G550 SUV and some AMG performance models. The vehicle can be swapped as desired for a different one in the tier, or subscribers can upgrade at any time to a higher tier for a vehicle they want. The vehicles available are from within the three most recent model years and availability may vary by location. They are delivered cleaned and fueled.
Price and details: The subscription commitment is month-to-month, but the flexibility and vehicle choice come at a high price. There is a $495 fee to subscribe, the Reserve Tier is $1,595 a month, and the Premier tier is $2,995. Initial sign-up and vehicle swaps can be done via phone and a concierge service. The subscription allows unlimited mileage and includes insurance, scheduled maintenance, roadside assistance and a "personal concierge."
Availability: Nashville, Tenn.
Vehicles: Two subscription price tiers offer a selection of sedans, coupes, SUVs and convertibles; the higher-price M tier includes BMW M performance models. The vehicle can be swapped as desired for a different one and subscribers can move up or down the two tiers. The vehicles available are from the current or previous model year and delivered detailed and fueled.
Price and details: The subscription commitment is month-to-month, but the flexibility and vehicle choice come at higher prices than rival Mercedes-Benz's plans. There is a $575 fee to subscribe, the Legend tier of vehicles is $2,000 a month, and the performance M tier is $3,700 a month. The subscription also can be "paused" for a $200 fee. Sign-up and swapping are via the phone app and a concierge. The subscription allows 2,000 miles per month, with unused miles rolling over for as long as the subscription is maintained. It includes insurance and scheduled maintenance.
Availability: New York, Los Angeles, Dallas
Vehicles: Offers most Cadillac vehicles, including performance V models (though the ATS-V and CTS-V are available only from March to October in New York). Vehicles can be exchanged for a different one up to 18 times a year.
Price and details: The subscription commitment is month-to-month. There is a $500 fee to sign up, and then the subscription is $1,800 a month. It allows 2,000 miles per month and includes insurance and scheduled maintenance. But you are required to return the vehicle with the tank at least three-fourths full and may be charged up to $150 if it you turn it in "excessively dirty." This service, unlike most, also allows subscribers as young as 18 years old.
Vehicles: Two subscription price tiers offer a selection of two-door and four-door Porsches, but if you lust after a 911 or Panamera, or the higher-performance versions of other Porsches, you'll need to pop for the high-price tier. And the top performance models are not available by subscription. Vehicles can be swapped at any time and subscribers can change tiers each month. All vehicles are from the current model year.
Price and details: The subscription commitment is month-to-month. There is a $500 fee to sign up, the Launch tier is $2,000 a month, and the Accelerate tier is $3,000 a month. The monthly fee also covers cleaning the car upon return. The subscriptions allow unlimited mileage and include insurance and maintenance.
Unlike other more direct manufacturer services, this subscription service is backed by Ford Credit and differs in many respects from the others.
Availability: San Francisco Bay Area, West Los Angeles
Vehicles: You choose from a variety of used, off-lease Ford and Lincoln vehicles. You can swap cars to a different vehicle at any time for a $99 fee.
Price and details: It's complicated — more so than the others. The subscription is for the term you choose and includes insurance, maintenance and roadside assistance. The monthly price is based on the choice of used car, subscription term and mileage allowance. The cars range from a starting price of at least $329 a month for a Ford sedan (such as a 2015 Fiesta S listed recently in Los Angeles), $445 for SUVs (such as a 2015 Escape SE), $499 for "sport" models (such as a 2015 Mustang V-6 listed) and $509 to start for a luxury vehicle (such as a 2015 Lincoln MKZ, but a 2017 Lincoln Continental Reserve was listed recently for $949 per month).
The subscription term then adds to the monthly bill in a range of from $375 for a one-month commitment to $50 per month if you sign up for 12 months or more. A mileage allowance of up to 500 miles is free, an 850-mile-a-month allowance is $35, up to 1,250 miles is $65 and unlimited mileage is $100 per month. If you pause the subscription, you continue to pay the subscription price, but the car portion of the payment is suspended.
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