Toyota Announces 'Beloved' New Subscription Service, Annoyingly Claims Transformation Into 'Mobility Company'

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Cadillac recently made the choice to suspend its vehicle subscription service, claiming the operation hit some costly roadblocks. That’s been our beef with most subscription programs as well, only on the consumer side of the coin. Customers typically end up paying significantly more for access to a fleet of vehicles that, individually, would have been much cheaper to simply buy or lease. Still, the intended draw isn’t saving money, it’s convenience — most subscription services allow customers to swap between select models on the fly, baking in both insurance and maintenance fees.

While these subscription services have been limited to premium nameplates thus far, Toyota wants to try its hand and see how things play out for a mainstream manufacturer.

On the surface, this seems like a sound strategy — Toyota boats a far more varied lineup than brands like Cadillac, BMW, Porsche, and Volvo. Imagine a scenario where you’re motoring around in an 86 and feel the need to move some lumber. Just deep-six the 86 for a Tundra pickup. Maybe the next few months involve taking the kids to soccer practice, necessitating something like a Sienna minivan. In theory, Toyota’s new “Kinto” program would allow you to do that.

Named after the magical flying nimbus cloud that appears in a popular anime franchise (and presumably has some significance within the broader Japanese culture), Kinto (kintoun 筋斗雲) is said to function in much the same way by appearing “when necessary and enables mobility as per the user’s wishes.”

If the Japanese flare hasn’t already tipped you off, this pilot program is launching in Toyota’s home country — specifically in and around the Tokyo area. However, the automaker has plans to expand the service if the initial foray turns out to be successful.

“Cars have been loved by people for over 100 years since they were first developed for many reasons in addition to their convenience,” explained Toyota boss Akio Toyoda. “Indeed, I believe that it is because they offer many joys to people, including the joy of ownership, the joy of driving, and the joy of mobility. As society shifts from owning cars to using cars, the Kinto beloved car subscription service is a new proposal to enable customers to more freely enjoy cars. The service makes it easy to start life with a car as soon as the customer feels that they want one. Moreover, if the customer wants to try another car, they can change cars, and if they no longer need the car, they can return it.”

In addition to saying it’s striving to transform itself into a “mobility company that offers a range of services related to mobility in light of the mobility society of the future,” Toyota also repeatedly referred to Kinto as a “beloved car subscription service.”

The oddly Japanese phrasing is not without purpose. Toyota claims it’s working on a way to reward drivers who “carefully use the car as if it were their own beloved vehicle.” The details on that are yet to be finalized, though the company says it would issue points for safe or ecological driving utilizing connected technology and regular visits to dealership. While an interesting idea, it also sets a rather creepy precedent for corporatized monitoring that we hope never extends to purchasable automobiles.

The program is said to launch at the start of 2019.

[Image: Toyota]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Nov 05, 2018

    The first mobility company was Olds Mobile. And how that experiment ended? Not very well. On the other hand there is already car subscription service Fair, why I need Toyota? The idea of Toyota was reliability for long term ownership. If you subscribe you can choose much better and more exciting vehicle than Toyota.

    • Stuki Stuki on Nov 06, 2018

      But they weren't in the Japan of today. Where "Olds", and at least trying to stay "Mobile," are both more pressing concerns than in the US in the 90s....

  • IBx1 IBx1 on Nov 06, 2018

    Hasn't Toyota been a "mobility company" since they cancelled the Supra, Celica, and refused to sell a GT86 that could outrun a prius? Now they slap gaping maws on every 1.8L 4-banger they sell and call that "sporty." Toyota has always been the appliance company, with a few very welcome exceptions.

    • Geozinger Geozinger on Nov 06, 2018

      Don't forget the Nightshade Editions! Blacked out rims! Sporty! As an aside, doesn't anyone at Toyota have any knowledge about plants and herbs? Nightshade is poisonous to humans. It would be like Ford naming their next SUV "Cyanide" or "Hemlock"...

  • EBFlex At the summer property putting boats in the water, leveling boat lifts, cleaning the lots for summer, etc. Typical cabin stuff in the most beautiful place on the planet
  • Lou_BC I've I spent the past few days in what we refer to as "the lower mainland". I see Tesla's everywhere and virtually every other brand of EV. I was in downtown Vancouver along side a Rivian R1T. A Rivian R1S came off as side street and was following it. I saw one other R1S. 18% of new vehicles in BC are EV'S. It tends to match what I saw out my windshield. I only saw 2 fullsized pickups. One was a cool '91 3/4 ton regular cab. I ran across 2 Tacoma's. Not many Jeeps. There were plenty of Porches, Mercedes, and BMW's. I saw 2 Aston Martin DBX707's. It's been fun car watching other than the stress of driving in big city urban traffic. I'd rather dodge 146,000 pound 9 axle logging trucks on one lane roads.
  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.
  • CAMeyer Considering how many voters will be voting for Trump because they remember that gas prices were low in 2020–never mind the pandemic—this seems like a wise move.
  • The Oracle Been out on the boat on Lake James (NC) and cooking up some hella good food here with friends at the lake place.