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      08-05-2019, 10:29 PM   #1
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Drives: Access by BMW
Join Date: Feb 2014
Location: Middle TN

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Access by BMW - One year review

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Access by BMW launched in August 2019 and I was (one of?) the first to sign up. (Note: it really launched in April 2019 but the pricing didn’t come into realistic territory until August 2019.)

My previous review focused on describing early impressions of the program and describing how it works. This review will focus on the changes to the program and cars. In addition, this review is going to summarize my thoughts on the long-term viability of the program. While this includes a lot of advice to BMW, I hope it helps you guys understand what it's like to actually be in the program--both the good and the bad.

But first let me give a good summary of my stats and the program as it stands today.

Cars and Stats
I’ve driven nearly 11,000 miles, made 54 switches and driven 18 different models of cards. That averages out to about a switch per week and a 1,000 miles per month. The total MSRP of cars driven, per the app, is $2,897,000.

Here’s the list of cars driven, ranked from my favorite to least favorite in each category.

• SAVs (5): 2018 X6M, 2019 X7 xDrive 50i, 2018 X5M, 2018 X5 xDrive35i, 2018 X5 xDrive40e
• Convertibles (6): 2020 Z4 m40i, 2019 i8 Roadster, 2018 M4, 2018 M6, 2019 m240i xDrive, 2019 440i
• Coupes (4): 2020 M340i xDrive, 2018 M4, 2018 M3, 2018 M2
• Sedans (3): 2018 M5, 2018 540i, 2018 530e
• Not Driven Yet: 2020 750i, 2020 m850i Convertible, 2019 X3 m40i, 2019 X5 m40i, 2019 440i Gran Coupe, 2018 i3

Changes to the Program
There have been a few changes to the program.

• The Icon Tier is now $999 and includes cars like the incredible M340i xDrive with Driver Assist Package and the X3 m40i.
• The M Tier, while still advertised, appears to be going away. I wouldn’t be surprised if it disappears soon. I’ve been told the M4 convertible is gone and getting the M5 is tougher and tougher to grab. The last time I drove through where they keep the fleet there were also few (if any) X5M and X6M. I’ll miss having these cars as an upgrade.
• There are quite a few cars that are not in a tier and can only be secured with an additional daily fee. These are the X7 xDrive 50i, 750i and m850i Convertible. Having these cars available is a good thing.
• No more same-day switches. You must request your switch at least 1 day in advance. Additionally, you now have to provide a 2 hour window for switches. (Prior to this you could request a specific time and oftentimes get same-day switches.)
• Some customers (including yours truly) used to get monthly free upgrades. I got an email a few months ago saying they were ending the free upgrade program and that “exciting changes” were coming. (Still waiting for those exciting changes!)

Changes to the Cars
• Unlimited Mileage! Previously it was 2,000 miles per month. This is a big deal.
• The “e” models have been phased out. (X5 xDrive40e, 530e). The i3 and i8 Roadster also appear to have been phased out. Aside from the i8 Roadster, I won’t miss any of them.
• They are phasing out the iDrive cars in favor of the cars with BMW Cockpit. However, this is painfully slow. I still haven’t been able to get the G05 X5–just the F15. It’s hard to get in a car with BMW Cockpit (e.g. M340i, Z4 M40i) and then go back to a car with iDrive!
• Speaking of cars being slow—it took several months after they advertised the M240i convertible to actually get one in. Same with the X3. Other cars that are now in the program (such as the incredible z4 m40i) aren’t even advertised. There’s a disconnect between what they advertise and what’s happening in the program.

Ok, with all the changes out of the way, let’s get to the opinions…

My Thoughts – Overall
After 1 year in the program, I would give the program a B-minus. I plan to continue Access for the time being.

My Thoughts – The Good

Being able to switch cars is a luxury that I have come to rely on. The added benefit of never having to wash a car, never worry about recalls/warranties or even maintain my own insurance policy is just icing on the cake. Being able to drive basically every car BMW makes is something almost no one could do prior to this program. I love it.

The cars are also getting optioned better. Many of the cars at first had basic option packages. Now, they are giving the cars the nice upgrades such as the advanced Driving Assistant packages, Laser Headlights, heated steering wheels, etc. (Plus, the newer cars have BMW Cockpit, which is a big upgrade.)

The concierge service (provided by Citron) is top-notch. They provide great service and always do a great job of answering questions / making sure switches go smoothly.

My Thoughts – The Bad

So, what are the downsides? It all has to do with how “fluid” vs. “stagnant” the program is. Think of it as a river vs. a nasty pond. When the water comes in and never moves anywhere, it gets nasty and builds up scum. When the water moves freely, it creates a river capable of recreation and transportation.

The program has two major stagnant factors that is causing the water to get a bit nasty.

The first is how slow they are to change the cars in the fleet. For example, the convertible used to be the 440i, which is about as bad a car as BMW makes. The new convertible is the Z4 m40i—a beast of a machine! Plus, it has all the latest technology. Another example is the G05 vs. the F15 X5. Right now the program only has a couple of the G05’s. It’s been about 3 months and they still haven’t replaced the F15s.

So, what do you think happens when someone gets the Z4? Or, what do you think happens when they graciously gives you the m850i or the M6 convertible? That’s right, people never give it up! Or, what do you think happens when someone gets a G05 X5? They know they got lucky so they hang on to it too long!

I’ve been guilty of this. I hung on to the X7 m50i until they said it was due in for a recall. I didn’t want to drive the X7 as long as I did. There were times I would have much rather had a smaller car. But, would I get the amazing M340i (new technology) or just a 440 coupe (old technology)?

My advice to BMW: Flip your fleet MUCH faster. People catch on quickly. Make your fleet more homogenous. If every car has great option packages, people won’t be tempted to over-keep it.

The second factor causing stagnation is there is no incentive to schedule your switches in advance. To understand why this is a problem imagine BMW has 20 convertibles in the program and all 20 of them are with customers because the weather has been beautiful. No one puts in a change request until the last minute. This means that customer #21 who may have put in a request three weeks ago has no idea if they will actually be confirmed to get a convertible until the last minute. Without knowing what cars will be moving in/out, the schedulers have no way to promise anything. They have to hope that a customer turns in a last-minute request. And because customers don’t get a confirmation until the last minute, they learn it’s not worth it to put in a request until the last minute. The whole thing is a downward spiral.

My advice to BMW: Encourage people to schedule switches far in advance. Often incentives such as weekend switches if they book at least x days in advance. Another idea would be to guarantee certain models ahead of time. For example, if someone wanted the X7 for a family vacation, putting in a request at least x days ahead of time may guarantee them the vehicle. Finally, I wouldn’t be opposed to putting caps on cars—such as 10 days. After 10 days BMW can take the car back with 24 hours’ notice. These ideas will cause you to have a better idea of what is going to be available which will allow you to confirm switches much earlier.

The times I feel stuck in a vehicle are the times I think about leaving the program. If you’re going to be in this program, you need to be of the mindset that switching cars is a good thing! Otherwise, you might as well purchase a car!

There is one other item other than stagnation that is becoming a problem—the transparency of the fleet. There is no visibility into the cars available. They operate on a needs-based system where if you say “I want a convertible” then they bring you a convertible. The only way I found out that the Z4 was available was by asking my concierge if there were new cars coming. I pretty much ask every single time I see the concierge. It’s the only way other than driving to the dealership to see the cars. It’s dumb and it’s time to evolve the program such that people can see the types of cars available in the fleet.

My Thoughts – The Business of Subscription
I can only assume that Nashville (and now Singapore) are tests for BMW and they would like this to do well so they can roll it out nationwide.

My advice to BMW: Move fast and break things. Act more like a tech company and less like a car company. Very little has changed with the program in 12 months. If you want to succeed, you have to iterate faster. This includes the app (which is decent—not great), the fleet, the pricing, the tiers of cars—everything!

They haven’t figured out the magic recipe yet. I’m a diehard fan for BMW and I love being on the bleeding edge of new tech/business. This program was built for me. But, to reach the masses and cross the chasm (H/T to Geoffery Moore), this thing needs to change faster.

From my vantage point, I can’t tell what the limiting factors are.

Is it the funding arm—BMW Financial? If so, that’s stupid. Be willing to lose a little more than you’re comfortable with and get to pass/fail faster!.

Is it the backend/tech provider—Clutch? I doubt it—I think they just do what BMW tells them to do. That said, I think they could encourage more tech-like thinking to BMW.

Is it the dealership (Sonic Automotive)? Quite possibly. They barely advertise the program on their website and there is virtually nothing about it at the dealership. I imagine they are way more incentivized to sell cars than offer the program. The program is a deal at $999 with no mileage limits and insurance included and cars ranging from $50-65k (M340i xDrive, m240i, X3) available. An X3 lease just can’t compare to that on a mileage basis alone.

Advice to Someone Considering the Program: Do your research. It is more expensive than a lease and is definitely a luxury item. However, when you really weigh out all the costs as well as your time, it is less expensive than you think.

Final advice to BMW: What you’re doing in Singapore is stupid. Specifically, calling it a subscription and saying it is a “three month term” is just like an expensive three month lease. If you switch the Nashville program to something like that, I’d be gone in a heartbeat. I want a convertible in the fall and to lock in for three months to a convertible would be miserable!

Instead, come up with ideas that encourage less stagnation and more switching. For example, what if you offered a two-car plan as entry level? Imagine offering the X3/m240 convertible combo for slightly less than the Icon plan is priced now--$899/month? What if you offered a discounted plan but you had to schedule all switches at least 21 days in advance? What if you earned upgrades by not requesting last minute cars? What if you could add a second car to your account (e.g. for your partner) just for special occasions? These are just ideas… the real key is… move fast and break things!

… and don’t let this thing stagnate!