For many it has been a lifelong dream: Drive a four-wheel drive for the snow months, a convertible for the summer and a station wagon for family vacations—all available at your friendly, local auto dealer.
It has been talked about for years, but it looks like now may be the time for vehicle subscription services. The idea has traction, and although there are a bunch of questions and many problems to be sorted out, some companies are launching pilot programs in this country.
We still have no real sense of who is willing to pay for the luxury of switching models several times a year, as the mood strikes. Are young people interested in such a program, or is this something for the middle-aged or older? Only the testing will bring that out.
I think it will prove successful if the terms are not too strict, and the costs are reasonable. A brand will need enough different models to appeal to the customer. Also, the question of new or used models has to be worked out. The wild card is going to be the used-car dealer. If used-car superstores start to offer a selection to their customers as well, then it may change the outcome of these pilot programs considerably.
Enterprise Holdings already is offering this kind of flexibility for its rental customers and uses more than one brand. Will car companies such as General Motors or Volkswagen, for example, mix their brands so you could get a Cadillac in the summer and a Chevy truck in the winter?
The options are considerable, and they all offer exciting possibilities. This sort of novel thinking is what it will take to see the industry reach annual sales of 20 million units. It is smart to have these tests across the country. We should have no sacred cows.
Of course, it is the customer who will decide the success or failure of these subscription services, and whether the idea may need some modification before it goes national. No one can predict the outcome, but the fact these tests are taking place shows how innovative the retail business will become.
Crain is chairman of Crain Communications Inc., parent company of Rubber & Plastics News, and is editor-in-chief of Detroit-based Automotive News.