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Toyota and Nissan, Not Porsche and BMW, Should Be Launching Car Subscriptions


February 20, 2020 Cars By

The new car buying process is one that’s ripe for disruption. The current car-buying experience is a pain, usually involving several parties (buyer, bank, dealership), multiple visits to a dealership and an endless amount of paperwork. And that’s before we get to traditional financing and fixed lease deals — which are often unsuited for the fluid labor market of tomorrow.

Automakers have been seeking out better ways to do things. One option, taking a cue from the tech world, is a subscription plan. We’ve seen almost every luxury manufacturer running a pilot plan version through dealers in certain cities, whether it’s Porsche Passport or Access by BMW. But the subscription plan model seems like it would work better with a mass-market manufacturer — especially one like Toyota or Nissan, with a lineup large and versatile enough to make such a plan worth the money for middle-class customers.

Younger, less-well-off buyers, after all, may be more concerned about committing to a longterm financial arrangement, or swapping out cars to reduce emissions. And many people living in urban environments may want to explore non-traditional ownership arrangements — extensions of services like ZipCar and Share Now.

Besides, luxury brands don’t offer the flexibility in vehicle types that makes a subscription plan particularly valuable. If you buy a Cayenne because you have children, the times where you can swap it out for a 911 Carrera S to go cruising won’t happen often. Ditto with the reverse scenario; few Porsche customers seem likely to be swapping a 718 Cayman out for a Cayenne to help a friend move.

Toyota or Nissan, on the other hand, offer a much more extensive range of options. (Titus Adventure Company in Colorado, for example, has built a business plan around renting Toyota off-roaders to people who don’t want to live with their fuel-efficiency.) Buyers could get a Tundra to move their boat once a month, then drive a Prius the rest of the year. Parents could snag a super-practical Sienna for the road trip, but swap out for something sexier in everyday life. And a big selling point for Nissan’s perfect electric crossover could be swapping it out for an Armada for a long road trip.

In fact, Nissan is showing early signs of embracing this logic; the company has announced a pilot program in Houston called Nissan Switch. Buyers can make up to one car switch per day. The base $699-per-month Select plan offers access to the Altima, Rogue, Pathfinder, and Frontier. Paying $899 per month for the Premium plan adds the Leaf Plus, Maxima, Murano, Armada, Titan and 370Z to the mix. Premium plan users can also take out a GT-R for an additional $100 per day for up to a week.

Toyota is doing better on the sales front than Nissan, so it makes sense that they would be a bit more conservative. The company did inform Gear Patrol that they’re learning from their subscription pilot program, and considering expansion opportunities for the future. That pilot program, however, is a luxury-brand one — with two Lexus dealerships in Seattle allowing customers one monthly switch between the ES, IS, NX and RX for $995 per month.

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Tyler Duffy

Tyler Duffy is Gear Patrol's Motoring Staff Writer. He used to write about sports for The Big Lead and The Athletic. He has a black belt in toddler wrangling. He's based outside Detroit.

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