This Week in Car Buying: BMW offers subscriptions; More cars to be axed; Sales surge; Transaction prices gain
BMW is the latest brand to jump into the subscription game, announcing a program called Access by BMW. The monthly subscription will allow unlimited access to a diverse fleet of BMW vehicles through local dealers responsible for vehicle deliveries and maintenance. The pilot program has begun in Nashville and will offer memberships in two tiers ranging from $2,000 to $3,700 per month, which includes maintenance, insurance and BMW Roadside Assistance.
“As customers continue to explore the growing mobility market, service-related offerings are becoming more in demand,” said Ian Smith, CEO of BMW Group Financial Services. “With Access by BMW, our members will enjoy the freedom of personal mobility with access across a broad range of our highly emotional vehicles. Subscription-based services are of emerging interest for our customers and we’re excited to be offering a mobility service to meet their individual and evolving needs.”
The first tier, dubbed “Legend”, features a selection of BMW sedans, coupes, convertibles and SUVs. This includes the BMW 4 Series coupe and convertible, 5 Series sedans including the plug-in 530e iPerformance as well as the BMW X5 and BMW M2. The higher level is called the “M” tier and includes the BMW M4 convertible, M5 sedan, M6 convertible as well as the X5M and X6M performance SUVs.
“A pilot program is a great opportunity for us to learn,” said Smith. “In the future, the nationwide network of BMW dealers will be integral to the success of Access by BMW. We will depend heavily on their close collaboration to continue to meet and exceed consumer expectation, and to ensure the sustainable development of this new business model.” Access by BMW is administered by Clutch Technologies, a partner of KBB parent Cox Automotive.
More cars to be axed
The meltdown in the traditional car market continues and as a result a number of vehicles are said to be headed to the chopping block perhaps as early as the next model year. Reports out of Detroit name at least four models headed for extinction both at the top and bottom of the car segment. The Wall Street Journal said its sources have identified these models as the Ford Taurus and Fiesta as well as the Chevrolet Impala and Sonic. Both manufacturers declined to comment saying they won’t talk about future product strategy.
But the paper indicates that while the Taurus will be eliminated entirely, the next generation Fiesta is a go for Europe and other global markets, but will not be sold in the U.S. More speculative is the demise of the Impala, while the econobox Sonic, which had been produced in the U.S., has seen its production ended sometime this year.
While cold weather over most of the U.S. during March may have belied Spring’s arrival, the traditional post-winter sales surge did show up and the month went out like a Lion with a 6.4-percent gain in volume over year ago levels. However, most of that was the strength of crossover SUV and truck sales which were up 16 percent, as well as an uptick in some fleet deliveries. As mentioned in the previous item, traditional cars continued to be a drag on the market, dropping 8.9 percent for the month and 11 percent over the first quarter of 2018.
The big winners in March were GM and FCA, the former posting a 16 percent jump in sales, the latter recording a 14 percent increase. Two GM brands contributing most to the gains were Buick, which was up 28 percent over a year ago, and Chevrolet at a 16 percent increase. Jeep was the big driver at FCA with a 45 percent increase, largely on the introduction of the all-new Wrangler and the redesigned Cherokee.
Gains were more modest at Honda, Ford and Toyota. Honda was up 3.8 percent, while Ford and Toyota posted identical gains of 3.5 percent. Sales were down marginally (0.2 percent) at Nissan, while Hyundai-Kia saw a 7.0 percent decline.
Incentives continued to climb, according to J.D. Power, which recorded a $74 increase to an average of $3,849 per vehicle, or 10.3 percent of the average MSRP. Light truck incentives gained $160 on average, while car programs saw a $54 decline.
Transaction prices gain
Along with the boost in sales, average transaction prices (ATP) also continued their relentless march upward during the month hitting $35,285, a 2 percent or $703 bump over last year. However, month-over-month prices actually fell $23 or 0.1 percent, a likely result of the increase in incentive spending.
“Most automaker transaction prices increase in March 2018 as the industry average rose 2 percent,” said Tim Fleming, analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “Average transaction price growth was headlined by SUVs, particularly in the mid- and full-size segments. Although fuel prices were up last month, SUV sales remain strong and new models like the Chevrolet Traverse and Lincoln Navigator helped elevate their respective segments.”
GM’s prices were up 4 percent year-over-year thanks to a 10-percent gain for the all-new Traverse, while the redesigned Buick Enclave was up 6 percent. FCA saw a 1 percent decline in ATP due in part to a 3 percent decline at Ram, as it sells down its incentivized 2018 Ram 1500 pickups in anticipation of the 2019 models, which are just beginning to roll into dealerships.
On the opposite side, the new Jeep Wrangler JL helped boost that nameplate’s average transaction prices by 4 percent. By category, the biggest rise in ATP was recorded in the luxury midsize SUV segment, which saw a 6.3 percent jump in average prices. The increases in the minivan category cooled to 1.5 percent. Prices continue to drop for compact cars, which saw a nearly 1 percent decline.
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