Subscription services are the "ultimate noncommittal car-ownership experience," said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds.
Pricey monthly plans, however, have kept these services from gaining mainstream adoption. Mercedes offered four membership tiers, with prices ranging from $1,095 to $3,595 a month.
"While consumers enjoy easy car ownership, there's a limit to how much they're willing to pay for it," Caldwell said.
The subscription model also faces an existential threat from a pandemic that is expected to linger for months.
"COVID-19 really will put the nail in the coffin as the idea of swapping cars is off-putting to most consumers and likely unadvisable by health officials in this environment," Caldwell noted.
In addition, the Mercedes pilot revealed a challenge that subscription programs grapple with — not enough vehicle swaps.
"At the start, customers enjoy changing the car," Chamberlain said. "After a certain period of time, that sort of gets old and they want to leave their car with their stuff in it."
The model doesn't work if vehicles aren't turned over frequently. Without vehicle churn, the automaker would have to stock large volumes of each model variant, making the program too expensive.
"You need utilization of the vehicles," Chamberlain said. "You've got a depreciating asset and it needs to be used."
To drive that utilization, vehicles in subscription programs should also be available for short-term rentals and used in loaner fleets, Chamberlain said.