If you passed my house on any given day this spring, you might have seen one of the following vehicles in my driveway: A BMW M235i convertible, a Mercedes-Benz GLE350 SUV, a Jaguar XF sedan, and a Mercedes-Benz SLC300 roadster. For a few days, I even drove a Porsche Cayman, which my wife insisted we park in the garage. “We are not leaving that outside our house overnight,” she declared.
No, I was not playing out a midlife crisis (that’s for another story) but rather testing Clutch, a Buckhead business that believes that our binary approach to automobiles (do I buy or lease?) leaves out a third option: subscribe. Clutch’s business model is elevator pitch simple: Pay a flat fee each month, and you can choose from a fleet of luxury vehicles, which the service delivers to your door. When you want to try something new, use its app to request a “flip.” How many flips are permitted? As many as you want.
Clutch offers three tiers of service: $750, $950, and $1,400 a month. The higher the price, the newer and more luxurious the vehicle. But no matter what tier you choose, the fee includes everything, even insurance. All you pay for is gas. No more waiting in line to renew your tags. No more schlepping to the dealership for maintenance. Your car breaks down? Clutch will bring you a new one.
Clutch has been in business since 2014, and it hooks new customers mostly via word of mouth. Which makes sense because when you’re behind the wheel of a different luxury car every few days, your friends and neighbors are bound to ask questions. Cars are like weather; they give even strangers something to talk about.
As Vince Zappa, Clutch’s president, explains it, most Americans choose vehicles for our “highest need.” Got a spouse and two or three kids? You’ll buy something that fits them all. But while that may be practical, it’s not efficient. It’s also not fun. When my family of four decided to go to Savannah for spring break, I notified Clutch via the app. Presto: a roomy Mercedes SUV. When I had to drive to Florida solo and wanted something fast, I got another Mercedes—a two-seater convertible roadster.
Even as their fleet has expanded to 550 cars and more than 500 customers, Zappa and the Clutch crew say they see themselves more as a software company than an automotive company. It’s the technology that they say will be the real game-changer. Zappa imagines a day when car manufacturers or dealerships offer similar services using his platform. In this way, Clutch’s Atlanta operation, which covers ITP and a corridor up Georgia 400, serves as a laboratory.
“At our core, we’re a technology company,” says Zappa, who calls cars a “depreciating asset.” Maybe so, but I sure enjoyed having a depreciating asset in my driveway that went 0 to 60 in 4.8 seconds.
This article originally appeared in our July 2017 issue.