BMW becomes the latest automaker to shut down its subscription service

BMW is suspending its two-year-old car subscription service, The Verge has learned.

Access by BMW was launched in 2018 in Nashville as a pilot project to test out whether customers would want to have access to a fleet of fancy cars but not necessarily own one. But recent requests to sign up have been met with a disclaimer that the service is in the process of shutting down. A Nashville resident who was interested in applying for the subscription service was told that it was going to be defunct by the end of January.

“Unfortunately the Access by BMW subscription program is ending on January 31st and we are no longer taking new members,” a sales representative said in an email.

A BMW spokesperson confirmed to The Verge that BMW was winding down its pilot, though the company appears to be leaving the door open for future experiments. “The Access by BMW vehicle subscription program was launched in Nashville, TN in April of 2018 and was always intended to be a pilot program,” the spokesperson said. “As such, the pilot will conclude at the end of this month. We are in the process of developing the next iteration of Access by BMW and will share more information with you as it becomes available.”

The spokesperson declined to share sales numbers but acknowledged that “the program had reached its capacity limits.”

Despite the imminent shutdown, the Access by BMW website is still up and running, with a link on the automaker’s North American site redirecting to it. “A new way of driving BMW is coming,” the homepage promises.

Access by BMW consisted of two tiers. For $2,000 a month, members could choose between models like the X5 SUV, 4 Series, and 5 Series sedans, including all plug-in hybrid versions. For the higher-tier $3,700-a-month fee, they could get M4, M5, or M6 convertibles as well as X5M and X6M SUVs. (BMW’s highest-end 7 Series was not available through the service). The fee included insurance, maintenance, and roadside assistance.

If that seems a bit pricey, you’re not wrong. The top-tier $3,700-a-month plan is almost three times the cost of leasing an M5 sedan in the Nashville area (though a lease requires a down payment of $5,724 and doesn’t include insurance and maintenance).

Subscriptions have been a mixed bag for the auto industry. Ford walked away from its service last fall following low demand. Cadillac shut down its service Book in 2018, only to resurrect it several months later with fewer options. Last summer, Mercedes-Benz pulled the plug its Collection subscription service, citing mediocre sales.

Other automakers have had some success. Porsche, Audi, Volvo, Nissan, and Jaguar are still offering some variation of a subscription service. Even the big car rental companies, Hertz and Enterprise, are getting in on the action. Most of these subscriptions are only available in specific cities and are still in the pilot phase.

Comments

Good, cars should not have features that require subscriptions, period.

I agree, but RTFA. Completely different thing. BMW is still happily charging for feature subscriptions.

Please Verge staff, institute a "Yes, I read the article" affidavit/literacy test in order to comment….

Might be worth reading the article before posting a reply so you know what you are commenting on.

You have no idea what you are talking about. None of these are subscriptions to features. These are subscriptions to the whole car so you don’t ever own the car.
You pay a flat monthly fee and get a brand new car, insurance, registration, maintenance, roadside assistance, all in one. And it’s different from a lease since that is a form of ownership. It’s really much closer to renting a car. I use Care by Volvo and it’s amazing.

Who thinks a lease is ownership???

While you aren’t actual owner for those X years, you are a de-facto one and generally become owner once lease is over (at least here). I believe at least 75% of people leasing a car would consider it "theirs" even though it actually isn’t.
Here, nobody considers to own the car any more you consider yourself owning rental car during vacation.

I can only speak as someone who lives in the US, but you are most definitely not an owner (or even a pretend owner) when you lease a car. You specifically sign away your rights during the lease acquisition process and agree to arbitration instead of an actual lawsuit if something goes wrong with the car. You also can’t make any significant changes to the exterior of the car or else you’ll be charged for them.

Also, most cars will be depreciated beyond their buyout cost at the end of the least (especially for luxury cars). A lease is the complete opposite of ownership. It’s an extended rental.

At least in Sweden, you are still the registered owner of the car when leasing as private person, but with a special remark that the car is leased.

So, by financial means – no you don’t own the car. But the government counts you as the owner and responsible for it. I mean, most of us doesn’t technically own our houses, since we have loans exceeding 50% of it’s value, thus making the bank the financial owner. But we still say we own the house.

By comparison, services the one BMW had, or say Volvo has with M.co, then you are never registered as the owner of the car, as you’ll be using different ones.

The real benefit was they’d top up the blinker fluid for free.

Geez! For $3,700 a month you could finance and pay off a loaded M5 in three years…and pay the insurance…and the maintenance. Hell, you could finance and pay off a loaded V10 R8 for 5 years. Who was this program for? Presumably anyone that could afford $3,700 a month would have just bought whatever BMW they wanted.

I think the idea was you could pay $3,700 a month and drive ALL the BMWs, not just one.

But, cars are already depreciating assets…but at least if you lease or finance, you will eventually own the car or have the option of buying it for the residual. With this, if you were to sign up for a year of the higher-tier you’d be burning $44000, at the end no car, no partial ownership, no equity. Whereas if you had just picked one of the available M cars you could have paid off anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of the car and still have some equity, "burning" half the amount the subscription service would. It just doesn’t make sense.

Volvo has a similar program but their pricing is closer to that of a lease, which makes WAAAAY more sense.

Again, the type of person this would appeal to and could afford it is just going to buy or lease the car they would drive in the program anyway.

I think the point is that you would lease the 3 series but then be able to drive the other cars in the portfolio for a time depending on your subscription. So you could swap it for an X5 to go up to the mountains or a Z4 to go for a weekend getaway etc.

In theory this plan isn’t for any regular working person. I live in super car capital Vancouver, BC and I grew up in the part of town where are all the satellite kids aged 18-30 would get lambos, db9s, f458, M and AMG models. I mean this is who they have to cater to. Rich people. But the plan I honestly think should just be focused on the top tier.

Another thing is people who don’t plan on staying in a city for long (more affluent transient population cities) but want access to cars that they feel they are normally accustomed to, it’s not a bad deal vs having to buy it, maintenance insuring and then deal with selling it.

It’s not really for us, I don’t get how Nashville of all markets made sense to pilot it there. Should have been like NY, LA or San Fran in the states.

It’s still $3,700 a month down the toilet. There’s a reason why leases are normally so much cheaper than buying a car, and that’s that you have nothing to show for it at the end of a lease. This is like leasing but without the advantage of saving money on the actual asset; in fact you’re paying more! You’re paying more than actually buying a car, and in the end you have nothing. It’s stupid.

I feel like programs like these are intended for someone who just wants to drive a different car every couple of days, but I don’t know who that person is. I’ve never met anyone like that. Everyone I know wants to drive a car that fits their wants and needs. When you find that car, you really don’t need anything else unless/until your situation changes, and it’s not like we’re suffering from a shortage of automotive choices these days. So programs like this seem to just amount to an extended test drive period that you pay a lot of money for.

Well if it was cheaper i could see the benefit. If you want a fast car for some fun you go grab it. If you want to go on a camping trip, you go grab it. There’s never one model that is good for everything. When you buy or lease, you are stuck with one car and you have to be judicious about picking. With subscriptions, you can experiment. Like with Spotify or Netflix or Xbox game Pass, I can try things I would never risk buying if I had to pay full retail for it.

It’s still very expensive…

While only in Sweden, Volvo has a similar concept called M. And while they don’t have a total flat rate, you’d have to drive your care 24hrs a day for 24 days a month to pay more (by the hourly rate, full day and weekend rates are lower)

And it should be noted that cars in Sweden aren’t exactly known to be cheap. With our heavy taxation we probably pay between 30-50% more for a new care than you’d do in the US.

I mean, the other thing is that you’re not locked into a specific vehicle, so you may drive the M6 most of the time, but maybe you’re taking a trip and require more space so you get a X6 for a while. Still crazy money, there is that. Not enough for most people, obviously.

What about, I don’t know, hire a car for the period and not be locked into a brand? The plan is too damned expensive.

Sure, but that requires a bit more work. I’m not defending the price, just saying that there are people who want a certain convenience and are willing to pay for it. My father-in-law comes to mind.

Also, let’s not ignore the context is that BMW have just killed the offering on the grounds that it couldn’t find an audience. The article itself points out how expensive it was, and clearly most people agree.

The most interesting subscription business is one that I think is coming – https://www.canoo.com/b2b/ – rent/own/lease a common electric skateboard chassis, but rent the body you need for your work/play demands. GT roadster/cargo van/kid hauling SUV/ski weekend sprinter? Yes. — if they can get the economics right, the brand story practically sells itself.

skateboard chassis?

I think it’s telling that nobody even seemed to notice this shutdown was happening until somebody decided to try to sign up for the program in the middle of the same month it was shutting down.

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