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

Luxury cars subscription plans don’t enough flexibility. But a Toyota or Nissan plan could be interesting.

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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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