Blank Canvas: Ford Ditches Vehicle Subscription Business

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy

Just a short time ago, vehicle subscription services were hailed as the second coming, permitting drivers the freedom to select from a range of vehicles for a single monthly payment. Proponents touted it as a way for manufacturers to display their wares and for buyers to sample a wide array of cars. Opponents said OEMs could potentially lose money by having all these used cars on hand.

It would seem the latter is beginning to prevail with a cadre of companies getting out of the subscription game faster than an aging athlete getting traded to another team. Fair, the $1.2 billion startup company backed by SoftBank, just picked up Canvas from the Ford Motor Company.

Canvas, in case you have forgotten, was a vehicle subscription company based in (where else) San Francisco as a subsidiary of the Blue Oval. It was directed at consumers looking for an alternative to car ownership, offering subscription terms of as little as three months to provide the use of a car bundles with insurance and maintenance. It was founded less than three years ago.

Fair itself is billed as a “forward-thinking alternative to traditional car ownership”, so the purchase makes sense if the company is seeking to expand its footprint or simply quash a competitor. The company’s website currently offers options ranging from a 2015 Ford Fiesta for $150 a month to a 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350 for $800/mo.

Alert readers will note these are not brand-new cars. That Fiesta includes a dose of warranty and routine maintenance with “no long-term contract and the freedom to walk away at any time.” An upfront fee is due at signing and the car is registered to you as Lessee.

Ford says Canvas provided vehicles for about 3800 subscribers in San Fran, L.A., and Dallas. Fair, meanwhile, got its start four months earlier than Canvas in 2017. Despite the small differential in age, Fair has found much more success, rapidly growing its subscriber base to more than 45,000 customers across 30 markets. Existing customers of Canvas will be ported to Fair and the sale apparently includes all the cars.

Count this as yet another nail in the coffin of OEM subscription services, schemes which seem to blow through new cars leaving a trail of depreciation in their wake. An argument can be made that customers who use these services don’t care if they’re driving a new car, explaining the success of Fair versus some manufacturer programs.

Ford CEO and noted sunhat enthusiast Jim Hackett has explained in the past that not all bets made by the company will pay off, including a shuttle service called Chariot that it binned last year after sinking $65 million into buying it in 2016.

[Image: Ford]

Matthew Guy
Matthew Guy

Matthew buys, sells, fixes, & races cars. As a human index of auto & auction knowledge, he is fond of making money and offering loud opinions.

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  • Lokki Lokki on Sep 13, 2019

    If this is such a great business plan, why aren’t the major car rental companies up to their, ah, trunk lids into it? They already have the fleets, and all the ‘back of the shop’ infrastructure.

  • Sgeffe Sgeffe on Sep 15, 2019

    Regarding the be-tatted whatever in the picture: as I’ve said, I think I went into the wrong field! Dermatologists are gonna be able to write their own tickets removing that within the next decade!

  • Zipper69 Current radio ads blare "your local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer" and the facias read the same. Is the honeymoon with FIAT over now the 500 and big 500 have stopped selling?
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh hmmm get rid of the garbage engine in my chevy, and the garbage under class action lawsuit transmission? sounds good to me
  • ToolGuy Personally I have no idea what anyone in this video is talking about, perhaps someone can explain it to me.
  • ToolGuy Friendly reminder of two indisputable facts: A) Winners buy new vehicles (only losers buy used), and B) New vehicle buyers are geniuses (their vehicle choices prove it):
  • Groza George Stellantis live off the back of cheap V8 cars with old technology and suffers from lack of new product development. Now that regulations killed this market, they have to ditch the outdated overhead.They are not ready to face the tsunami of cheap Chinese EVs or ready to even go hybrid and will be left in the dust. I expect most of their US offerings to be made in Mexico in the future for good tariff protection and lower costs of labor instead of overpriced and inflexible union labor.