Car-subscription programs are gaining traction among motorists who don’t want to be locked into the hassles of car ownership or even multiyear leasing commitments. All they want is a vehicle available whenever they want or need it.
SAN FRANCISCO — If you already subscribe to digital services like Netflix to binge on TV shows and Spotify to groove to an endless mix of music, the auto industry might have a deal for you: Subscribe to your next car.
Make that cars, plural. Some of these packages — which charge a monthly fee for the bundled use of a car, insurance and maintenance — let you trade in your vehicle on a regular basis.
These still-developing car-subscription programs are gaining traction among motorists who don’t want to be locked into the hassles of car ownership or even multiyear leasing commitments. All they want is a vehicle available whenever they want or need it.
“It feels like Christmas morning every time they bring me a new car,” said Steve Barnes, a video producer who subscribes to a high-end vehicle-subscription program offered through Clutch Technologies, a startup operating in the Atlanta area.
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Although they’re still in their infancy, car subscriptions are hooking more motorists as both long-established automakers and startups roll out plans.
Ford expanded into car subscriptions about 16 months ago through Canvas, a subsidiary in San Francisco.
Canvas offers a variety of used, once-leased Ford and Lincoln models as subscriptions that cost anywhere from $379 per month (for a Ford Fiesta subcompact) to $1,125 per month (for a Lincoln Navigator luxury SUV).
Those plans, however, impose driving limits of 500 miles a month. Subscribers can pay extra for higher limits — $35 per month for an additional 350 miles, for instance, or $100 per month for unlimited travel. Unused miles in any given month can be rolled over to the next one. If Canvas customers exceed the monthly mileage limits under their plan, they are charged an additional 15 cents per mile for a Ford car and slightly more for a Lincoln vehicle.
So far, Canvas has limited subscriptions to the San Francisco and Los Angeles area. In its first 16 months in California, thousands of subscribers have signed up for its subscription service while collectively driving about 8.5 million miles, according to the company.
“People are generally changing the way they are working, they are changing the way they are living and they are generally changing the way they are consuming things,” Canvas CEO Ned Ryan said. “Subscriptions are going to be a very large and growing share of how people consume automobiles.”
About a third of Canvas customers decided to subscribe to cars after moving or some other major event that left them reluctant to make a bigger commitment to leasing or owning, Ryan said. Others just like the simplicity and convenience offered by a car subscription, he said.
Luxury automakers such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and General Motors’ Cadillac brand also are offering subscription programs, but those are primarily catering to affluent drivers who want to try out a variety of expensive vehicles.