Porsche North Scottsdale saw robust interest after it began offering the subscription program in October, said General Manager Dave Zoloto. "With the transiency of the Phoenix market, partial residents here in the wintertime, I thought it was a pretty stand-up program," he said.
Then, COVID-19 hit. The dealership now has four customers in subscription vehicles, about half the volume from last winter.
"It's very difficult to really say where this program goes today based on the comfort level of consumers for sharing cars," Zoloto said.
The pandemic and its economic fallout are likely to pressure the long-term sustainability of the unproven subscription model.
Several new automaker and dealer programs were delayed by COVID-19, mainly because of the uncertainty and service disruption at local dealerships, said Vince Zappa, president of Clutch Technologies, a Cox Automotive unit that develops software for vehicle-subscription service providers.
"At the beginning of the year, we had deals and implementations in process that have certainly been affected," Zappa said.
Consumer demand for subscriptions dropped in March but returned to pre-COVID-19 levels beginning in May, he said.
Even before the coronavirus, automakers struggled to attract enough people who want to pay for the convenience of swapping vehicles. Others have found customers but struggled to turn a profit.
Mercedes-Benz USA will end its two-year vehicle subscription pilot this month, citing lackluster demand. The service drew a few hundred customers, and Mercedes executives had expected it to turn a profit in the first 12 to 18 months.
Book by Cadillac, a subscription service from General Motors, was put on hiatus in 2018 after few customers bit at the service's $1,800-per-month price. GM now is revisiting the program and testing a rebooted version in a dealer pilot.
Ford Motor Co. walked away from its vehicle subscription business last fall, following lackluster demand.
To make its subscription service more accessible, Porsche will offer access to a single model for one or three months.
The new option starts at $1,500 per month for the Macan crossover and tops out at $2,600 for the 911 Carrera.