Lincoln’s Subscription Pilot Program Struggles to Make the Math Work

“The new Netflix, but for cars.” “The next big thing.” “Vehicle subscriptions are the 21st century’s consumer’s business model of choice.”

Are they?

Amidst the news that emerges monthly regarding the latest company to offer vehicles on a subscription basis, there are fewer inquiries to determine how these subscriptions are faring. In the case of Lincoln’s subscription service, which is powered by Ford’s Canvas system, the answer is “not very well.”

According to the company, the subscription pilot program, which began this year in California, has attracted little interest, with many users canceling after just one or two months. Now the company will attempt to retool the program to attract more interest, and from more long-term customers.

“I’ve been surprised how few people are genuinely interested in that type of ownership,” Robert Parker, Lincoln’s director of marketing, sales, and service, told Automotive News. “If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said this is the next big thing. A lot of people are struggling to make the math work.”

Lincoln’s subscription model, launched last year, is a little different from that of other companies. It offers subscribers a range of older, contemporary models (including the MKC, MKZ, MKX, and Continental) and includes insurance and maintenance, for a monthly fee. The hope was that by trying out the vehicles, consumers might ultimately want to purchase one, and the company viewed the subscription program as an alternative to sending gently used models to auction. Prices for the program vary between $500 to $950 a month.

In the end, the service seemed to be attractive only to Lincoln customers who needed a temporary vehicle while their own was in the shop, according to Parker.

“The amount of people coming out after one or two months is very high,” he said. “It’s just kind of an interim process.”

The subscription model already has its fair share of detractors. Earlier this year during a presentation to Automotive News, Edmunds senior analyst Ivan Drury proclaimed: “At these price points that we’re seeing, [a subscription service] virtually makes no sense to anyone. If you went the other route versus the subscription cost … you could essentially have two. You can make your own miniature fleet. You don’t even need to use their program. So, it’s not going to be worthwhile for a lot of people who are going to do the math. It’s just a rich person’s toy.”