Cadillac recently made the choice to suspend its vehicle subscription service, claiming the operation hit some costly roadblocks. That’s been our beef with most subscription programs as well, only on the consumer side of the coin. Customers typically end up paying significantly more for access to a fleet of vehicles that, individually, would have been much cheaper to simply buy or lease. Still, the intended draw isn’t saving money, it’s convenience — most subscription services allow customers to swap between select models on the fly, baking in both insurance and maintenance fees.

While these subscription services have been limited to premium nameplates thus far, Toyota wants to try its hand and see how things play out for a mainstream manufacturer.

On the surface, this seems like a sound strategy — Toyota boats a far more varied lineup than brands like Cadillac, BMW, Porsche, and Volvo. Imagine a scenario where you’re motoring around in an 86 and feel the need to move some lumber. Just deep-six the 86 for a Tundra pickup. Maybe the next few months involve taking the kids to soccer practice, necessitating something like a Sienna minivan. In theory, Toyota’s new “Kinto” program would allow you to do that.

Named after the magical flying nimbus cloud that appears in a popular anime franchise (and presumably has some significance within the broader Japanese culture), Kinto (kintoun 筋斗雲) is said to function in much the same way by appearing “when necessary and enables mobility as per the user’s wishes.”

If the Japanese flare hasn’t already tipped you off, this pilot program is launching in Toyota’s home country — specifically in and around the Tokyo area. However, the automaker has plans to expand the service if the initial foray turns out to be successful.

“Cars have been loved by people for over 100 years since they were first developed for many reasons in addition to their convenience,” explained Toyota boss Akio Toyoda. “Indeed, I believe that it is because they offer many joys to people, including the joy of ownership, the joy of driving, and the joy of mobility. As society shifts from owning cars to using cars, the Kinto beloved car subscription service is a new proposal to enable customers to more freely enjoy cars. The service makes it easy to start life with a car as soon as the customer feels that they want one. 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.”

In addition to saying it’s striving to transform itself into a “mobility company that offers a range of services related to mobility in light of the mobility society of the future,” Toyota also repeatedly referred to Kinto as a “beloved car subscription service.”

The oddly Japanese phrasing is not without purpose. Toyota claims it’s working on a way to reward drivers who “carefully use the car as if it were their own beloved vehicle.” The details on that are yet to be finalized, though the company says it would issue points for safe or ecological driving utilizing connected technology and regular visits to dealership. While an interesting idea, it also sets a rather creepy precedent for corporatized monitoring that we hope never extends to purchasable automobiles.

The program is said to launch at the start of 2019.


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