Quick Facts About Car Subscription Services
Five years ago, automaker vehicle subscription services seemed like the next big thing for acquiring a car. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Cadillac, Volvo, and Porsche jumped into this new brand-sponsored leasing-renting hybrid strategy. Mercedes curtailed its program in 2020, while BMW, Audi, and Cadillac discontinued theirs in 2021. The departures left Volvo and Porsche as the last carmakers standing.
However, in an announcement at the 2023 Chicago Auto Show, Hyundai breathed some new life into the subscription concept by announcing its Evolve+ EV Subscription Program. Although it takes a somewhat different tack than the more established programs do (and did), Evolve+ EV revives the question, “should you pay for a car subscription?”
As you continue reading, we will define car subscriptions and lay out the benefits and concerns of the programs. We’ll also detail the three manufacturer subscription services and, finally, clue you in on what we would do.
What Is a Car Subscription Service?
Think of a car subscription service as the offspring of full-service car leasing and renting. Whether you lease, rent or subscribe, you hand over the keys at the end of the contract period and walk away. You owe nothing, and you own nothing.
Generally, renting is typically a short-term arrangement, while leasing is more long-term, often two, three, or four years. In either case, you are obligated to insure, fuel, and be a responsible custodian of the vehicle. There are differences between renting and leasing; however, other than the terms of the contract, they provide a similar experience.
The beauty of a subscription is its flexibility. Within the program’s parameters, car subscriptions allow members to start and stop the service to suit their needs. For example, Care by Volvo allows members to exchange vehicles or completely walk away after five months. Porsche Drive has two program levels — one based on a 30-day term.
In addition to the use of the vehicle, all the manufacturer subscription-program monthly fees include the following:
- full insurance coverage
- scheduled maintenance
- complimentary delivery and pick up
- 24-hour roadside assistance
All programs have a monthly mileage limit.
How Do I Join a Subscription Service?
To take advantage of a subscription program, you must meet the program’s age, credit, and driving history requirements. Initiating the process requires downloading an app or visiting a subscription center, often a franchised dealer. From that point, the process is relatively simple. Choose a car, select a start date, provide an access fee (if required), make the first monthly payment, and wait for delivery. We’ll look at each manufacturer’s program and requirements in more detail below.
What Are the Pros and Cons of a Car Subscription Service?
A subscription service has advantages and disadvantages compared to traditional financing and leasing. We spell out a few of both.
- No down payment or financing costs. Drivers who don’t have a vehicle to trade in or have trouble putting together a down payment can avoid both with a subscription service.
- Flexibility. Some subscription programs are designed around a fixed length (one month, three months, five months, and so forth). Shorter terms allow you to start and stop the subscription at the end of the stated term without penalty. Then, you may return the car, hang on to it for another term, or switch to another available model. Porsche’s multi-vehicle subscription program even allows you to change models during the subscription term with a 48-hour notice.
- Insurance is included. You need not fret about insurance because it is part of the monthly fee.
- Free delivery and pickup. Subscription programs offer complimentary door-to-door delivery and pickup of the vehicle at the beginning and the end of the term.
- Convenience. For the most part, you can complete all the required steps to subscribe, get approved, choose a vehicle, make payments, and specify a delivery date and location through an app on your device.
- Lengthened test drive. If you are shopping for a model offered through a subscription, subscribing is an ideal way to test-drive the vehicle for a month or more. In fact, Hyundai is pitching its new Evolve+ EV subscription program as targeting the “EV curious.”
- Roadside assistance. Every carmaker’s subscription program includes 24-hour roadside assistance.
- No dickering. Whatever the posted monthly fee is, it’s nonnegotiable. It is what it is, including the coverage and cost of the insurance. The monthly fee is prearranged, and there are no exceptions.
- Variety. One benefit baked into subscription services appeals to subscribers who like driving something new and different. You can mix it up when picking your next subscription.
- No equity. Although some may consider non-ownership a benefit, subscribing, as with renting or leasing, doesn’t result in any vehicle ownership at the end of the subscription term. The monthly subscription fee is for using the car during the subscription term and nothing more.
- Limited selection. Only Porsche opens its entire new product line to subscribers. Otherwise, carmakers limit subscriptions to specific models. For example, Hyundai’s new Evolve+ EV subscription program only applies to the Ioniq 5 and the Kona Electric. Care by Volvo is currently leaving the availability of subscription cars in the hands of its dealers.
- Monthly cost. Yes, a subscription rolls insurance and other ownership costs into the monthly fee; however, the typical result is a monthly payment higher than leasing. Let’s face it, providing the freedom of starting and stopping the subscription and being able to flip models at the end of each term has a cost.
- Excess wear. As with leasing, you will be responsible for any damage or wear to the vehicle the dealer deems excessive.
- No customization. If you, as a car owner, like to install aftermarket bits and pieces to your ride, you are out of luck if you rent, lease, or subscribe. It’s one of the downsides of having no equity in the vehicle.
- Restrictions. Varying by program, you will have a monthly mileage cap. You may also need to crate pets when transporting them. Smoking is also a no-no. Moreover, forays into Canada or Mexico may also be on the don’t-do list.
- Limited availability. Some subscription services aren’t nationwide. They are limited to certain cities or states.
- EV charging. If your subscription vehicle is fully electric (EV), efficiently charging it at home will require a 220-volt Level 2 charging station. That’s because plugging into a 110-volt household outlet is simply too slow to bring a drained battery up to a full charge in under a day or two.
What Are the Automaker Car Subscription Services?
Care by Volvo
Although Volvo’s subscription program offers an app, you can’t access the available vehicles online. Consequently, the subscription inventory is in the hands of your local Volvo dealer. To discover which models are eligible for subscription in your area and their monthly fees, you must contact the dealer. However, expect the costs to run from around $700 per month for the XC40 to $800 monthly for the XC90. Volvo doesn’t assess a setup or activation fee.
In addition to the common benefits listed above, items also included in Care by Volvo:
- 5-month term — Subscriptions are for 5-month intervals, after which you may renew for another five months, pick another model, or pause the subscription.
- Wear-and-tear replacement — During scheduled maintenance visits at 10,000-mile intervals, Volvo will replace worn items like wiper blades and brake rotors free of charge.
- Tire and wheels — Unlimited repair or replacement of tires and wheels due to road-hazard damage.
- Excess-wear protection — Volvo absorbs any excess-wear penalties up to $1,000.
Porsche separates its program into Single-Vehicle and Multi-Vehicle levels. Subscribing requires using subscription centers located in 15 cities across the United States. Many are in California, including Irvine, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Sacramento. However, eight centers are in cities, including Louisville, Atlanta, Phoenix, and Philadelphia. Canada has four centers positioned in larger cities such as Toronto and Vancouver. Because of the limited locations, Porsche restricts free delivery and pickup to subscribers within 20 miles of the centers.
Further separating Single-Vehicle, Porsche offers the options of 1-month or 3-month subscription terms. Both include access to the entire Porsche lineup with monthly fees based on the model you pick and have a 1,500-mile cap per month. Current monthly fees range from $1,700 for the Macan to $3,200 for the 911. In addition to term length, the only difference between the 1-month and 3-month programs is that the shorter term requires a $595 activation fee.
Allowing subscribers to opt out at the end of any month, the Multi-Vehicle plan includes flipping vehicles with just 48 hours notice. It also has a $595 activation fee with a standard monthly cost of $3,600, regardless of the model. The mileage cap is 2,000 miles per month.
Hyundai Evolve+ EV
New to the subscription game, Hyundai recently launched its program in seven cities across six states with plans to expand to other areas. An app-based service, it is restricted to the Ioniq 5 and the Kona Electric. It requires a $300 activation fee, a 28-day commitment, and a 1,000-mile mileage cap.
Still remarkably exclusive, Evolve+ EV includes seven dealers in six states: South Carolina, Oregon, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Colorado (2 dealers).
The monthly cost:
- Kona Electric $699.
- Ioniq 5 $899.
Are There Any Third-Party Subscription Services?
Although you may see several third-party subscription services listed in roundups of such programs, most really aren’t. At least they aren’t in the spirit of the all-inclusive subscription programs from the automakers. Most are actually longer-term rental programs with such limited reach they aren’t worth detailing here. Moreover, most don’t include insurance or guarantee you will receive the model you pick. They will likely substitute another vehicle they consider to be in the same segment as your pick. They include programs such as Hertz My Car and SIXT+.
Is a Car Subscription Service Right for You?
We aren’t cheerleaders for leasing because it doesn’t make financial sense for the average driver. You have nothing to show at the lease end for two or three years of payments. We argue that the average person should build equity as part of a long-term strategy for creating wealth. There are sound tax reasons for some people to lease; however, it isn’t for everyone. We bundle subscription services with leasing.
That said, there are sound reasons for using a subscription service that may be worth postponing building equity. Because the monthly fees are inclusive, subscribing is a no-muss, no-fuss avenue for solving a short-term transportation problem. Think of people on a two- or three-month out-of-town work assignment or snowbirds spending winter in Florida or Arizona.
Using a subscription service as an avenue for a long-term test drive for cautious shoppers is another sensible reason for delaying equity building. Hyundai’s Evolve+ EV program is an excellent way to explore an EV before pulling the trigger on buying one.
On the other hand, if meeting a budget isn’t a concern and money is no object, you’ve overcome the need to accumulate equity. Therefore, a subscription service like Porsche Drive’s Multi-Vehicle plan is a wonderful way to drive a different vehicle every week if the spirit so moves you.