Car Industry

Toyota to experiment with car subscription program in Japan

Think of it as Care by Volvo, but from one of the largest automakers on the planet.

Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

Starting in 2019, Toyota will be the latest automaker to dip its toes into the subscription-program pool.

Toyota announced late last week that it will run its own car subscription service called Kinto. It's still light on details, but it seems like Kinto will operate in a way similar to Volvo's Care by Volvo subscription service. That's a good model, because it's proved quite popular in a variety of markets, including the US.

Subscribers will pay a monthly sum, and in return, they'll have access to "the type of car that they like and want to drive, and to freely enjoy such a car." The monthly price will cover taxes, insurance and maintenance, but it's unclear if there will be mileage restrictions, although use of the word "freely" sounds pretty liberating, mileage-wise.

It'd be pretty swell to have an 86 for daily duty, but a larger SUV when it's time for a family road trip.

Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

However, unlike Care by Volvo, it sounds like swapping cars won't be limited to contractually obligated dates, and it appears that users can cancel at any time. "The service makes it easy to start life with a car as soon as the customer feels that they want one," said Akio Toyoda, President of Toyota, in a statement. "Moreover, if the customer wants to try another car, they can change cars, and if they no longer need the car, they can return it."

Also unlike Care by Volvo, Toyota plans to promote good behavior. Kinto will have a program that rewards drivers who take extra care of their vehicle. By the sounds of it, this will include connected-car technology that can monitor "safe or ecological" driving, with additional rewards levied to subscribers who make regular visits to the dealer. Basically, if you treat the car that isn't technically yours like it is yours, Toyota will reward that behavior. Those rewards haven't been publicized yet, though.

The service will launch in 2019, and it'll be limited to the Tokyo area during its trial. That's a smart move, since urbanites are more likely to jump on a program like this, as their vehicular needs tend to differ from those of suburbanites or rural car owners. If it proves successful, it could jump across an ocean in future trial expansions.

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2018 Toyota 86 Manual