Photo courtesy Motor Drive
A few months ago, a new pilot program designed to let drivers test out an electric vehicle debuted just as quietly as a Tesla engine. Google it, and its website won’t come up. And it’s only in Indianapolis.
Motor Drive is a subscription service for EVs that works like a month-to-month lease—a fixed rate includes the car, maintenance, and even insurance. Five models are available in three subscription tiers. For $649, you can choose a Nissan Leaf or a Chevrolet Bolt. For $849, you get a Tesla Model 3. For $1,399, a Tesla X or Audi e-Tron. Each month, you can change tiers or cars within your tier. There’s no contract—cancel anytime.
Sticker-shocked? Those rates are in line with most car subscriptions—yes, that’s a thing now. Luxury auto makers and a few startup companies have been offering monthly subscriptions for a few years, usually in just one or two markets each, selling the convenience of an all-inclusive monthly payment and the ability to “flip” cars each month. Motor Drive’s lowest tier is cheaper than nearly every other car subscription.
That’s because Motor Drive is mission-based. Its objective is to promote EVs as sustainable transportation. Seventy percent of Americans haven’t been in an electric vehicle, and Mike Barg, the company’s head of strategy and business development, says the barriers to entry are still high—that dealers don’t have much inventory or incentives to sell EVs, and drivers worry about the availability of charging stations.
To educate its customers, Motor Drive has concierges in Indy available 24/7. One will drop off a car, explain the unusual instrument panel, and answer any questions. Then, subscribers might call on a concierge to help plan a road trip to Chicago, which would require charging on the way. (Tesla has superchargers in Lafayette and Merrillville.) Road trips will be tempting, too. Once you’re in love with your Tesla, you’ll look for excuses to cruise around. Motor Drive includes unlimited mileage, unlike most car subscriptions, so cruise away.
Age, however, is a limitation. Drivers must be 25 years old, for insurance reasons. Subscribers can register a second driver, subject to Motor Drive’s authorization.
To sign up, download the app and register. Technically, you’ll be placed on a wait list until a vehicle is available. Right now, Barg says you shouldn’t wait more than a week. If you live outside of Marion County, the app might tell you that Motor Drive isn’t available in your ZIP code. But Barg says they’ll make exceptions for residents of doughnut counties, so send an email if that’s the case. A biggest obstacle is not having a garage at home; concierges will tell you where to charge around town instead. The $400 initiation fee—another car-subscription staple—is discounted to $200 for a promotional period. Typically, electricity costs about half as much as gasoline per mile.
While profit might not be Motor Drive’s motivation now—“We tend to be a little crunchy, and transportation is the single biggest bucket of carbon emissions,” Barg says of Motor Drive’s team—more EV use would eventually translate into revenue for Motor Drive’s parent company, AES, one of the world’s largest electrical-power suppliers. It owns IPL but does most of its business overseas, which explains why Motor Drive launched here. (There are other reasons, Barg says—including the room for educational improvement here compared to more progressive cities. “If you start in California,” he says, “you’re not moving the needle that much.”) If electric companies can get more people to use their power grids at off-peak times, such as overnight to charge a car, that’s good business.
Another obstacle Motor Drive has to overcome is potential confusion with BlueIndy—or whether those little cars gave EVs a bad name here. “BlueIndy wasn’t the same kind of performance or experience we’re talking about,” Barg says. “It was just not the same kind of car. It was meant for short distances and low speeds.” A full-size car is a different animal. And compared to Tesla’s one-night loaners for interested buyers, so is Motor Drive.