What Is a Vehicle Subscription Service?

We expect subscription fees in different areas of life: reading, smartphone apps, yard and snow removal services are just a few that spring to mind. But for our cars? Pull over, because vehicle subscription services already exist in more forms than you may be aware of.

On-Demand Subscriptions

You’ve probably heard of on-demand subscriptions: You pay a monthly or annual fee to access content or services. Netflix is an example of a popular on-demand service.

Manufacturers and vehicle services already provide on-demand services. General Motors, for example, has OnStar, where subscribers can choose between four levels of service. Options like crisis assist and in-car Wi-Fi are available.

SiriusXM is also an on-demand service. As a major North American radio company, SiriusXM is designed to work with vehicles. A subscriptions gives drivers access to over 160 satellite radio channels. This subscription is also used outside the vehicle. Services like OnStar, however, are focused more on in-car use only.

Car Subscription Services

Car subscription services differ from on-demand services. Instead of subscribing for extra features, drivers subscribe to actual cars. We suspect you may not have heard of this kind of subscription service yet, and it’s no surprise. Portfolio by OpenRoad and AutoOne operate in only a few major cities in Canada. Curbo just opened up shop in November 2021 and services Ontario.

Essentially, these subscription services let you choose from a selection of vehicles without the commitment of owning one. By paying a monthly fee, you can use up to four different cars and drive up to 2,500 km. You’ll also usually have insurance coverage, roadside assistance, and maintenance.

Car subscription services are perfect for people who move often and don’t want to commit to buying a vehicle. No long-term commitment is required. You can also drive different cars to test what you like. Moreover, you can enjoy luxury brands, like Lexus and BMW, that might normally be outside your price range.

However, buying a car or leasing one means your payments will eventually stop. Then you’re only responsible for insurance, maintenance, and repair costs. A car subscription service requires continual payment for use of a vehicle. It’s also not cheap.

Subscribing to Vehicle Features

Apple CarPlay

Currently, we buy a vehicle with the expectation that all features are permanently included in the purchase, but this service would instead make most features only available through a paid subscription.

This type of subscription service is newer and already controversial. Drivers pay to access unique features already included in the vehicle’s design. While this idea has both pros and cons, it would change the way we buy vehicles forever.

This could be a good thing. New cars should be cheaper if extra features are only available via subscription. The monthly fees will also keep technology in vehicles up to date, because software updates in older vehicles will be necessary to justify the price of the subscription.

But there are also concerns. Customers may not enjoy being tied to a brand, and they may see these subscriptions as a cash grab.

BMW and Toyota, for example, have already attempted to block features behind a paywall. BMW added an extra cost to use Apple CarPlay, and Toyota tried to charge for remote start. Both companies have since gone back on these decisions after facing backlash.

Tesla, however, successfully charges a subscription fee to access extra features, like self-driving.

If vehicles move forward with subscription services for features, guidelines will need to be established. For example, upgraded safety systems should never be locked because a subscription hasn’t been paid.

Vehicle Subscription Services Are the Future

Subscription services are here to stay. While consumers won’t accept subscriptions for most vehicle features, car and on-demand subscription services have proven that subscription services can, and already do, work in the automotive world.