Automakers are treating vehicle subscription programs like startups: new, innovative and filled with potential — but economically and operationally unproven.
And more of the programs pop up seemingly every month. So far seven automakers, mainly through luxury brands, have launched or announced plans for vehicle subscriptions. The programs, aimed at consumers who balk at the long-term commitment a lease or loan requires, package car ownership into a monthly fee that includes insurance, routine maintenance and the option to frequently switch vehicles as their needs change.
But automakers are walking a fine line in trying to avoid getting passed by competitors without alienating the franchised dealers who have been the foundation of their retail operations for more than a century.
The programs operate mainly as concierge services, delivering and picking up vehicles that customers have requested via an app or website. Some programs have announced partnerships with dealerships to handle such tasks or maintain the vehicles, while others deliberate what role retailers should play in vehicle subscriptions.