Americans are used to paying for subscriptions — to magazines and cable television, for instance — but experience shows they’ll cancel when the price of admission gets too high, or there are more tempting alternatives. Cord cutters ditched nearly 1.5 million pay-TV subscriptions in 2017, according to a survey by Leichtman Research Group.
Cable TV started out cheap with basic offerings and then got expensive. The auto industry’s subscription offerings are new, but they’re starting out costly, and not price-competitive with traditional leasing. The upside is that they take the hassle out of car ownership for busy people by letting the service take care of maintenance, insurance, licensing and taxes. And they give consumers choice, often allowing relatively painless switches between different cars in the automakers’ lineup.
Subscription services also point the way toward an ownership-free auto experience and offer an easy transition to a potential world where ride- and car-sharing will be dominant. Subscriptions are here to stay, but consumers may take a while to “get” them. Lincoln’s subscription service for lightly used 2015 to 2017 models, offered through the Ford-owned Canvas beginning this year, got off to a slow start. Many early subscribers canceled.
Last month, Cadillac announced it would “temporarily pause” its $1,800-per-month Book subscription service for “adjustments” as of December 1. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Snags with the back-end technology used to support the service made some customer-service functions tedious and time-consuming, adding costs for the company.”
The challenge for automakers is to come up with a strategy that offers consumers a compelling, affordable option to regular ownership, and one that can also make a profit. I think they’ll find that sweet spot, but they’re not there yet.
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