Can Automakers Really Cash In on Connectivity and Subscription Schemes?

A little over a decade ago, it seemed like everyone I knew was abandoning cable packages for online streaming services. They were cheaper, on-demand, and offered more choices with fewer advertisements. But as the years progressed, companies stopped selling their media to a handful of online video platforms and started building their own. Programming became more transient and isolated, forcing consumers to buy into additional subscription services. We’ve since hit a point where the overall consumer experience has diminished and grown more expensive, despite the steady influx of competition.

While automakers have been dabbling with subscription services of their own, their earliest attempts turned out to be such overwhelmingly bad deals that the public refused to play along. But they’re not giving up that easily. Industry players have been trying to figure out ways to charge customers indefinitely for years and are starting to settle upon subscription packages that can unlock hardware that’s already been installed into the vehicle or add software that can be downloaded via over-the-air (OTA) updates. Love or hate it, vehicular connectivity has opened up the door for new sources of revenue and businesses everywhere are eager to take advantage — with most companies projecting exceptionally healthy profits for the years ahead.

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Maxim, Men's Health, and Mercedes-AMG: Mercedes-Benz Turbocharges Its Subscription Service

That feels like an apt description of the print mags found in your average (used) Mercedes-AMG driver’s home, but feel free to disagree and tell us to go back to 2003.

Anyway, as it seeks to tap customers’ wallets in new and exciting ways, Mercedes-Benz has added to its existing Mercedes-Benz Collection vehicle subscription service, offering exclusively AMG-badged vehicles for the first time. Access will not be cheap, nor will it be widespread.

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Nissan Switch: A New Vehicle Every Day, If That's Your Thing

Nissan hopes a new service announced Tuesday will entice brand aficionados into paying a sum well above that of your average monthly loan payment for the privilege of swapping between vehicles. The pilot project targeting Houston drivers carries the name “Nissan Switch.”

Yes, as it faces trouble in the U.S. and abroad, the struggling company is following in the footsteps of other automakers and giving the subscription model a go.

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BMW Changes Mind on Apple CarPlay Subscriptions

BMW is walking back its controversial decision to charge an annual subscription for the use of Apple’s CarPlay in its vehicles. We quickly complained about it, worried that it would spur a new trend of charging customers for the privilege of accessing what is normally standard content.

The German manufacturer originally said the subscription fee was necessary in order to offer wireless updates aimed at keeping the user interface evolving with phones. This was soon proven not to be the case, as other manufacturers already offer that exact service for free. BMW wanted to charge $80 a year (or $300 for a 240-month plan) after providing CarPlay free of charge for 12 months. Now, it will be gratis.

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Cadillac Subscriptions Return In 2020

If you read our coverage of Book by Cadillac, you’ll recall it was a minor financial disaster that had to be shut down in 2018. Cadillac was trying to develop a subscription model, following the lead of other premium manufacturers attempting to usher in a new age of consumerism, sans ownership. But the public didn’t take the bait.

We’ve had niggles about subscription-based sales models for years, whether it be for something hidden in your digital dashboard or affixed to an entire automobile. While they make sense for some services, we couldn’t make the numbers work for cars. It’s almost always the most expensive way to get into any given automobile. However, you do get a few nice perks as a consolation — things like insurance, registration, and maintenance — since you’re effectively renting the car. In the case of Cadillac, Book also allowed you to swap vehicles via a concierge service that would deliver the swapped vehicle pretty much anywhere you wanted — offering bottle water, umbrellas, and a positive attitude upon arrival.

Those extravagances may have been justifiable for those with money to burn, but the general populace wasn’t there to help General Motors shoulder the burden. The pilot program ended roughly a year ago. Yet GM’s chief marketing officer, Deborah Wahl, said Book would return in 2020, bigger and better than ever.

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Porsche Expands Subscription Service In North America

Porsche’s app-based subscription service is creeping into to four new cities in the United States and Canada. While technically still a pilot program designed to probe the market’s willingness, the expansion would indicate it’s one the automaker has some level of faith in.

We, however, are not among the true believers. Despite the added convenience of incorporating maintenance and insurance into one’s regular car payment, subscription services have not proven themselves to be an affordable way to own a car. In fact, they’re typically the most expensive way to procure a ride. But that doesn’t guarantee they won’t eventually catch on or make nameplates like Porsche oodles of cash, especially as the brand intends on making the service more costly.

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Volvo's Subscription Service May Breach California's Franchise Law

It’s no secret that Volvo dealers aren’t keen on the factory subscription plan. Last December, the California New Car Dealers Association even asked the manufacturer to end Care By Volvo on the grounds that it was taking business away from storefronts. The automaker responded by saying the service had proven popular with consumers, attracting new customers to the brand while reassuring dealers that version 2.0 of the subscription plan had been approved by the Volvo Retailer Advisory Board and would give shops more to do.

Rather than take the wait-and-see approach, the California New Car Dealers Association petitioned the state’s New Motor Vehicle Board. Last week, the group unanimously voted to direct the state’s DMV to investigate Care by Volvo and four claims that the service violates provisions of the California vehicle code — potentially leading to disciplinary actions.

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BMW is Going to Nickel-and-dime You to Death, Others Likely to Follow

As automakers connect more vehicles to the internet and install app-based shops into the dashboard, we’ve become increasingly worried with in-car marketing annoyances and the prospect of companies hiding content behind paywalls. Our concerns turned out to be valid.

BMW has decided that it will charge customers an annual subscription fee if they want to utilize CarPlay in its latest models. Odd, considering most other automakers have been trying to get the platform inside their cars as standard equipment. However we’re betting that changes unless BMW gets a healthy dose of criticism.

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Volvo Urging People Not To Watch the Super Bowl

Volvo is taking a very unique approach to its advertising for the Super Bowl this year. Rather than simply have the network air its commercials during the breaks, it has decided to compete with the game directly for viewership.

Called “The Longest Drive,” the automaker’s smartphone game is reminiscent of dealer and radio contests where people have to keep their hands on the car to win it. The difference here is that Volvo is concerned with your eyes. Participants will compete to log the most amount of time looking at stock footage of the Volvo S60 in the hopes of claiming one as a prize.

Mercedes-Benz tried something similar last year with its digitized “Last Fan Standing” competition. In that contest, people were asked to keep their finger on a Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe as the company monitored their cell phone, waiting for them to make a mistake. Unfortunately, mistakes were made long before the contest began.

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Book 'em Again, Danno: Cadillac's Revised Subscription Service Coming Later This Year

General Motors is readying another automotive subscription service after canceling “Book by Cadillac,” which was deemed too costly to keep operational, several months ago. However, whether that was due entirely to its own failures or related to the fact that the company is aggressively hunting for capital through its restructuring program is up for debate.

There were grumblings that the program’s complete lack of dealer involvement was a good way for Cadillac maximize profits (without sharing them). But, with it failing, it was also an excellent way to incur unnecessary costs. As a result, the brand intends to make its expansive dealer network an integral part of the fast-approaching “Book 2.o.”

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

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.

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Lincoln's Used-vehicle Subscription Pilot Isn't Going As Planned

The service doesn’t receive as much press as the new-car subscription services offered by a growing list of premium automakers, but Lincoln’s pilot project did carry many of the same aspirations. It just didn’t carry new cars.

Launched in California earlier this year, Lincoln’s subscription service offers users a range of older, contemporary models — insured, with maintenance covered — for a monthly fee that, depending on where you live, could secure a decent one-bedroom rental apartment. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ford’s luxury division says demand for the service isn’t exactly red hot.

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Porsche to Strangers: Borrow Our Cars

Having already introduced a subscription service for its vehicles, Porsche decided to continue experimenting with alternatives to traditional car ownership. The luxury brand plans to launch two pilot programs on both U.S. coasts (condolences to America’s Heartland) aimed at encouraging drivers to get behind the wheel of a Porsche for brief periods of time.

The first, overseen by Porsche Cars North America, will test exclusively within the Atlanta area, near Porsche’s North American headquarters. Called Porsche Drive, the pilot program launched a few days ago and offers hourly to weekly rentals of new Porsche cars and SUVs. Meanwhile, a second joint venture with peer-to-peer car rental company Turo will service San Francisco and Los Angeles starting next month. That endeavor focuses on the sharing of already purchased (new and vintage) Porsche vehicles by owners inclined to share them.

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Trademark Foreshadows Launch of GM Subscription Service 'DriveScription'

While we’ve bashed them for being one of the most expensive ways to acquire a vehicle, automotive subscription plans have becoming increasingly popular among premium nameplates. General Motors already has one exclusively for Cadillac but it appears that it’s setting up another for its less illustrious brands.

Late last month, the automaker filed a trademark application to register the name “DriveScription” with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The document clearly states that the term will be used in association with the Goods and Services categories of automotive subscription services, rental services, and vehicle sharing. Considering that Maven already handles most of the short-term rental and ride-sharing aspects of GM’s new mobility services, DriveScription is almost certain to be the mainstream equivalent to Book by Cadillac.

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Thinking of Getting a BMW Subscription? Expect to Mercifully Pay Less

BMW is trimming some of the fat off its car subscription program after the media collectively realized that paying twice what you would on an average lease didn’t constitute a good deal. Frankly, most car subscription services that exist right now are an incredibly poor value. Bavarian Motor Works was the rule, not the exception.

However, most of these programs are in their infancy and cater to wealthier individuals who get a kick out pestering automakers to submit to their whims by occasionally delivering a new vehicle. It was presumed that those lofty fees would come down as competition ramped up and mainstream automakers entered the fray. That, along with some public criticism of the subscription model, seems to be helping push automakers away from astronomical prices.

That’s not to say the German manufacturer is suddenly offering a bargain alternative to leasing. But if you love the idea of having a car for every occasion and don’t want to deal with insurance agents, Access by BMW has become more affordable.

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  • VoGhost I don't really care about sub-branding. I care about great product. GM should focus less on the branding and more on the great product part of the equation. Barra was appointed CEO on the premise of 'no more boring cars'. It hasn't worked out that way.
  • 28-Cars-Later Tim - I seriously did not log in just to complain but this site is completely jacked up now from a website design perspective. I always whitelisted for ten years but I had to turn on No Script because its just so horrible now, and with it on the layout looks even worse. I'm truly stunned by the callous design choices coming from on high, just wow.
  • 28-Cars-Later Corey I need talked down here:https://pittsburgh.craigslist.org/cto/d/pittsburgh-1999-cadillac-eldorado-etc/7561280135.htmlI talked to the seller, he said his father had it sent to a specialty shop to had the head bolts done which is the main design flaw in these. I need another car like I need another hole in the head... still...
  • Lou_BC The birfield joints on these older units tend to need a rebuild and are very expensive to replace.
  • Luke42 I'm only interested in the electric models.I own a 6L GM V8 (in a pickup truck), and it's a big sound and fury for small delta-V.A bunch if E-Vettes which reflect the Porche range would be interesting,.