Ford Motor Company's (NYSE: F) Lincoln luxury brand will begin offering month-to-month vehicle subscriptions in a pilot program next year, executives said this week.
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It's the latest move by Ford to explore alternatives to traditional vehicle ownership, as the company searches for ways to thrive and profit as technology transforms the traditional auto business.
But this move isn't exactly original: Lincoln is following in the footsteps of a few other luxury auto brands that have already begun rolling out subscription-based offerings -- and building on a related Ford subscription program that began earlier this year.
Here's what we know about the new Lincoln offering.
Drive a Lincoln without the hassles of ownership -- or leasing
Lincoln's new subscription program -- it doesn't seem to have a name yet -- follows the pattern set by a Cadillac service called BOOK that General Motors (NYSE: GM) launched earlier this year.
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As with BOOK, subscribers to Lincoln's program pay a flat monthly fee for access to a Lincoln vehicle. The fee covers all insurance and maintenance costs, a roadside assistance program, and participation in Lincoln's Pickup and Delivery service, in which a Lincoln valet will pick up the vehicle for service, leave a loaner car, and then return the customer's vehicle freshly washed.
Subscribers will be able to switch between Lincoln vehicles once a month, though the monthly fee will vary depending on the vehicle selected. The subscription can be cancelled at any time.
How it works and what it'll cost
Ford said that Lincoln's new subscription service will build on the technology created for Ford Credit's "Canvas" subscription service, a pilot program launched in May. Canvas, currently available in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, offers subscribers access to pre-owned Ford vehicles via a smartphone app. The service is priced by miles driven, with subscriptions starting at $429 a month.
The Lincoln program will almost certainly be more expensive, but executives promise that it'll be priced significantly lower than services from luxury-brand rivals. Cadillac's BOOK program costs $1,500 per month, for which subscribers get to choose from several top-of-the-line Cadillac models. A similar service from Porsche, called Passport, starts at $2,000 a month, with a more expensive $3,000-per-month option giving access to higher-end models like the 911 Carrera S sports car.
Lincoln's subscription service will launch in pilot form in a few cities in California next year.
Why Lincoln is adding a subscription service
Lincoln is focusing more on personal service in a bid to stand out in a crowded luxury market. It's a different tack, but a good move for Lincoln: The brand lacks the finely honed products it would need to truly go head-to-head with the dominant German luxury brands like BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
The new subscription service will join a growing list of service-focused Lincoln offerings, including Lincoln Personal Driver, which makes a driver available to chauffeur Lincoln owners -- or to run errands in their cars while the owner does something else. It's currently available in Miami and San Diego, and will soon launch in Dallas.
From the beginning, Lincoln's Chinese dealerships have made a high level of personal attention and service a key part of their offering. That level of service has helped Lincoln's sales in China boom over the last couple of years, and now the brand is hoping its focus on "effortless ownership" will help it find more growth (and more profit for Ford) here in the United States as well. In a year or so, we'll see how well it's working.
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