What life is like with a car subscription

Most people probably have a good understanding of short-term car rentals like you see at those airport kiosks. Likewise longer-term, multi-year vehicle leases, novated or otherwise. 

But there’s a middle-ground option: vehicle subscription.

Like Spotify, Netflix or Kayo, there are services out there that allow you to pay a flexible (usually monthly) subscription for a new or even second-hand vehicle, with few strings attached and simple payments.

A Google search reveals numerous companies in this space such as Carly and Carbar. Traditional rental companies like Europcar and Sixt are also playing in this market now, and so are carmakers themselves: namely Geely sub-brand Lynk & Co in Europe.

What’s the pitch? Is it just a product for commitment-phobes happy to pay a premium for the flexibility? Well no.

There are situations in which someone might want or need a car for just a few months, and be sensible for doing so. 

This sort of time period is long enough that a regular rental would be expensive indeed, but short enough that a formal lease or outright purchase makes little sense – especially for those who are time-poor. 

Maybe you’re between jobs and waiting on your next company vehicle. Maybe your old car conked out and there’s a bit of a wait on your next one.

Maybe you’ve been seconded to work interstate for a few months and need wheels. Or maybe you just want a really long trial period before buying something. 

This latter point is particularly relevant to those contemplating EVs for their household or business fleet. Why not drive one for a few months and work out the pain points before buying a depreciating asset?

I fit the classic mould of a car subscriber, having left my role as a car journalist and entered the corporate sector.

I no longer get press evaluation cars (tiny violin for me), my pair of ‘classics’ aren’t all that daily-drive-friendly, and my company lease vehicle isn’t due to hit the country until the end of May. 

Another good example of an ideal candidate is my friend who moved back to Melbourne from London, but wasn’t totally set on staying. They were staying at their parents’ house in the suburbs and needed temporary wheels while they planned their next move.

I used Carly, mainly because I’d heard of it. Over a four-month period I’ve had a Hyundai Ioniq 5 and now an MG 4, paying a single fee for use of the vehicle and all other associated ‘ownership’ costs. In my case, the few grand I spent was the most viable option. 

It would have cost me a lot more to rent a car the traditional way for four months, and buying a cheapie to tide me over would have been a pain, since it would need to be on-sold at the other end rather than just giving back the keys and walking away, as I will when my lease car arrives. 

The Ioniq 5 was a terrific vehicle to live with for two months, a period that was long enough for me to start noticing annoyances like the subpar infotainment, flimsy flush door handles, and big turning circle, but short enough that its spaceship design language proved enchanting to the end.

Meanwhile the MG 4 I’m in at the moment, a base white 51kWh model that I picked up with literally 19km on it, is astoundingly good for a $40,000 car, despite its cheap-and-fairly cheerless cabin design.

The ride and handling is excellent, so too the efficiency of 15-16kWh per 100km. 

Don’t get me wrong, car subscription is not particularly cheap, and best suits a specific subset of private buyers or fleets: time-poor professionals, travellers, or companies pondering an EV who want an extended trial, for example.

Carly says 5-6 months is the sweet spot for most of its users, and it’s easy to see the truth in it. 

But in my experience it was a breezy, no-strings semi-ownership model that plugged a gap for a few months in a way better-known vehicle procurement methods couldn’t.

There’s no one-size-fits-all, but for me and an emerging subset of consumers, subscription is an appealing middle ground. 

Presented with the same situation, would I do it over again? Definitely.

I will say Carly presented a few gripes; namely the issue I had pairing the cars to our household’s toll account, and its corporate partnership with Chargefox for the charging allowance (the hardware in my experience was often broken and unreliable). 

But none of this detracts from the concept. If, for whatever reason, the idea of having a vehicle for a few months with plenty of flexibility appeals, go crunch the numbers and see for yourself.

Any questions? Put them in the comments and I’ll keep an eye out and answer truthfully, drawing on my experience.

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