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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Leave ownership to someone else

Industry analyst, Cox Automotive, conducted a recent consumer survey indicating that private vehicle ownership is on the wane.  Half of the American survey respondents said that the cost of owning or leasing a vehicle is becoming too high — a sentiment that is driving more interest in on-demand and shared transportation services.

Those findings rightfully ring an alarm in an industry fully vested in manufacturing, retailing and maintaining privately owned vehicles, and manufacturers are studying new business models as a result.  Mercedes-Benz, BMW and General Motors, for instance, have launched subscription programs and short-term rental services, where commercial owners own the vehicle and charge consumers for use.

Nearly half of the 1,250 consumers Cox surveyed said that while access to transportation is important to them, owning a vehicle is not.  57 percent of urban dwellers said private vehicle ownership is not necessary to get where they want to go.

The subscription and short-term rental services create “a shift from personally owning a vehicle to consuming one as a service,” according to Isabelle Helms, vice president of research and market intelligence at Cox Automotive.  “Miles traveled will shift toward fleet-owned vehicles, causing what we believe to be a potential 40 percent reduction in consumer vehicle sales,” Helms predicted.

The short-term rental market is currently fragmented, where the top five industry leaders account for less than half of the total market.  By comparison, the ride hailing industry is more consolidated, with Uber and Lyft controlling 97 percent of that segment.

According to the survey responses, ride hailing services, such as Uber and Lyft, have provided significant momentum among the new transportation models.  Nearly 40 percent of respondents said they use ride-hailing services, which is a 77 percent increase from a similar survey in 2015.

Car sharing, experiencing slower growth, is fueled mainly by millennial and Gen Z consumers. Although this short term rental model has been around for 20 years, it’s popularity has been limited, with consumer awareness at 54 percent.  Inadequate access to sharing has curtailed mass adoption.  Even in urban areas where cars sharing is offered, 44 percent of consumers find it accessible, compared with the 85 percent of consumers who find ride-hailing accessible.

A relatively new transportation model — vehicle subscription program — is being powered by younger and more tech-aware consumers, Cox reports.  Instead of forcing consumers to buy one vehicle that attempts to meet all their needs, subscription programs give participants access to different vehicles for changing needs — an SUV for when family is in town, a sports car for a weekend getaway, or a sub-compact for the downtown commute. 

Subscription programs are in their infancy, but a fourth of those surveyed said they are now aware of vehicle subscription services offered by automakers and dealer groups.  Subscription services are most appealing to young males and those considering new vehicles.  One-tenth of consumers questioned said they would be open to a subscription service, instead of purchasing or leasing a vehicle.

Change is generally constant, and how the automotive industry makes, sells and maintains vehicles is no exception to that notion.  Current trends in consumer attitudes to private ownership of cars and trucks indicate that changes will happen.  Declining vehicle ownership, coupled with the inevitable arrival of self-driving autos, will give us increasing ways of leaving ownership, and even the driving, to someone else.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at