BMW Joins Audi, Mercedes-Benz to end its Netflix-For-Cars programs

If you had planned to borrow a BMW M5 for a weekend touringthe Grand Ole Opry and Johnny Cash Museum, you’re out of luck. And not just because of Covid-19.

Parent of BMW’s joint venture partner in China, Brilliance Auto failed to repay its three-year 149-million dollar bond on time. (REUTERS)
Parent of BMW’s joint venture partner in China, Brilliance Auto failed to repay its three-year 149-million dollar bond on time.

BMW has cancelled the subscription service itbegan in 2018 in Nashville, Tenn.A spokesman for the brand said the $2,000-plus monthly Netflix-for-cars style programwould endJan. 31.“The program had reached its capacity limits," BMW spokesman Phil DiIanni said in an email.The companydeclined to share how many subscribers had signed up to useAccess by BMW, but the Nashville option was never intended as more than just a pilot, DiIanni said.Access by BMW offeredtwo tiers of enrollment: Entry level members paid$2,000 monthly to use the X5 SUV and4-and 5 Series sedans; premium-level members paid $3,700monthly to drive the M4, M5, M6 and theX5M and X6M high-performance SUVs.Notably, BMW’sexecutive saloon, the handsome 7 Series, was not available through any level of membership.

Also Read : BMW iX to get Digital Key Plus feature with Ultra-Wideband technology

Munich’s crown jewel was hardly the first automaker to conductsuch anexperiment. By 2018, when Access by BMW launched, Cadillac was already canceling Book By Cadillac, the car-sharing attempt it started in 2017. Set in Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York as part of the company’s rebranding plan, Book By Cadillac’s subscribers paid $1,500 a month for accessto 10 different vehicles switched out up to 18 times a year. A Cadillac spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment bypublication time.

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Ford, Jaguar,Volvo,and others havealso launched their own car-subscriptionexperiments, mostly with very little fanfare in limited markets and with varying results. The programs are often used simplyas a way to test potential engagement of new buyers to the brand.

Also Read : BMW aims to double fully-electric vehicle sales in 2021

Ford sold its subscription platformin 2019 after disappointing results. In June of 2020, Mercedes-Benz cancelled the“Collection" program it had begunin 2018; company spokespeople cited poor sales for the decision. AudiannouncedJan. 15 that it would end its proprietary program by the end of this month as well. It will take theinsights from its pilot program in alternative car ownership to “createa new innovative experience for its customers," said the Volkswagen AG subsidiaryvia email.

Meanwhile, some have fared better than others. Porsche extended its “Porsche Drive —Subscription" to Los Angeles in late 2020 after starting the programin Atlanta in 2017. It now has subscribers in five cities in North America, including Phoenix, San Diego, and Toronto. Eight in 10subscribers to that service haveneverowned a Porsche, according to a spokesperson for Porsche Cars North America, and slots for cars are booked out for the next one to two months in most markets.

“Demand is healthy, which encourages us to make further expansion plans," the spokesperson wrote in an email.

But while the benefits of subscription programsinclude flexibilityand access to a variety of new cars—just like paying for Netflix so you can watch a bunch of shows whenever you want—theyare also expensive. Pricing for Porsche Drive —Subscriptionstarts at $1,500 a monthfor access to the workaday Macan SUV and goes to $2,600 monthly for access to the bedrock of the brand, the 911.

It’s possible driversin Nashville didn’t take kindly to the fees the same way Porsche-philes in L.A. would. Or maybe they’re just more sensible.BMW’s $3,700 monthly plan for borrowing, say, an M5 costroughly three times the price of leasing one.

First Published Date: 16 Jan 2021, 12:33 PM IST
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