Volvo’s Subscription Service May Breach California’s Franchise Law

It’s no secret that Volvo dealers aren’t keen on the factory subscription plan. Last December, the California New Car Dealers Association even asked the manufacturer to end Care By Volvo on the grounds that it was taking business away from storefronts. The automaker responded by saying the service had proven popular with consumers, attracting new customers to the brand while reassuring dealers that version 2.0 of the subscription plan had been approved by the Volvo Retailer Advisory Board and would give shops more to do.

Rather than take the wait-and-see approach, the California New Car Dealers Association petitioned the state’s New Motor Vehicle Board. Last week, the group unanimously voted to direct the state’s DMV to investigate Care by Volvo and four claims that the service violates provisions of the California vehicle code — potentially leading to disciplinary actions. 

According to Automotive News, dealers began petitioning in January with a public hearing manifesting last week.

“This is just the first step in ensuring that manufacturers, specifically Volvo, stop going around their franchisee business partners in an attempt to retail vehicles directly. Franchise laws exist to protect dealers from this type of behavior,” Brian Maas, president of the dealers association, said in a statement. “Our dealer members support innovation, including subscription-based models, but we are against violating the law. There is a right way and a wrong way to do business in California, Care by Volvo is the wrong way.”

Care by Volvo launched in 2017 as a two-year subscription service. As with most subscription plans, use of a vehicle, insurance, and maintenance are all packaged into one monthly payment. After a 12-month stint, subscribers can swap for a different vehicle. Originally, that meant Volvo customers could get an XC40 for between $650 and $850 per month (depending on trim). But the service has expanded to other models since then.

“Volvo Car USA is committed to developing Care by Volvo in collaboration with our retailers to offer the flexibility of subscription side-by-side with traditional lease and financing,” a Volvo Car spokesperson said in response to the investigation. “We continue to improve the program, which will soon enable retailers to complete subscription purchases and provide instant vehicle delivery. Volvo Car USA believes the addition of a subscription option on the sales floor will benefit both customers and retailers.”

The New Motor Vehicle Board wants the DMV to provide it with a report on the results of the probe within the next 180 days.

[Image: Volvo Cars]

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