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    Here’s what I know about Teslas: everyone who’s driven one (or even been in one) wants one. But that’s easier said than done; massive demand, price hikes, and a long, long wait list (up to a year or more) for a basic Model 3 can be frustrating to a prospective buyer, but if you want a brand-new Tesla soon, there aren’t many options.

    And then you stumble on Autonomy. Autonomy’s website promises it’s the “cheapest, fastest way to get a Tesla Model 3.” And it looks like a great deal, too. Though Autonomy can’t be used for any kind of commercial duty (that means no Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, etc.), Autonomy offers a flexible monthly payment as low as $490 and just a three-month minimum term. Sound good? Read on.

    Quick summary:

    • This might not be an option for rideshare drivers (mileage limits) but it’s an interesting concept that could trickle down to rideshare
    • Want to drive a Tesla but don’t want to own (or can’t get access to!) one? This subscription model could be your answer
    • Get a brand new Tesla within a few weeks

    What is Autonomy?

    Autonomy is a start-up founded by Truecar pioneer Scott Painter. His idea—to use the power of fleet-rental purchasing to enable a flexible, lower-cost subscription model—is one that has been gaining popularity and spawning companies like Free2Move and Flex. 

    Autonomy takes things a step further by offering a brand-new Tesla Model 3 or Model Y at a fixed price for as many months (after the first three) as the customer likes.

    How Does Autonomy Work?

    Autonomy’s vision is for a streamlined and simple smartphone-based car leasing experience. You download the app, select a car and your desired down payment/monthly payment, add a credit card, scan your driver’s license, authorize a credit check and then pick a color. 

    Your card gets charged $100 when you order, and then another $400 when you get the car; that $500 is refundable at the end of your subscription, less any damage charges.

    Autonomy promises a one-week wait on its website, but a query to Autonomy revealed it’s more like four to six weeks. That’s a lot better than what Tesla forecasts; about four to six months as of early August. When the car is ready for delivery, subscribers can go pick it up in Santa Monica or have it delivered anywhere in California for $100.

    Autonomy Cost

    The monthly payment varies depending on how much you put down. If you put down the full $5,900 “start” fee (what a car dealer would call a “cap cost reduction” in a traditional lease), your payment is $490 ($690 for the Y)  plus local sales tax; registration is included in the subscription price, as are tires.

    And of interest to our readers: Autonomy says no gig work, but they have no way of knowing what you’re doing with the car, just how many miles you’re driving it each month. So if your gig work isn’t too mileage-intensive (and we in the Show Me the Money Club stress using your destination filters and other strategies to keep your mileage as low as possible), it could work.

    How is a Subscription different from a Lease?

    For cars, leasing means there is a contract with a fixed end date. You finance the amount the car will devalue during that period, and then you hand the car over when the lease is done. 

    With a subscription, the period is very flexible. There’s usually a minimum amount of time—in Autonomy’s case, it’s three months—but there isn’t any set end date after that; the subscriber can keep the car as long as they want, though they may want to start a fresh subscription once the warranty (4 years, 50,000 miles) expires. 

    Some subscriptions include insurance, but Autonomy requires you provide your own, with a $1,000 deductible for comprehensive and collision coverage; this can add another $200 or more a month for most drivers.

    Scott Painter wants to reinvent the wheel. Or maybe leasing wheels. Photo: Autonomy

    Is Autonomy worth it?

    Pros:

    • No 4-6 month wait for your Tesla! Autonomy claims the wait time is “four to six weeks or sooner.”
    • Autonomy lease is significantly less than Tesla’s after figuring for registration and tires.
    • Can be ended with 28 days’ notice (after initial period).
    • Maintenance is included, not that Teslas need much.
    • Roadside assistance is also included (Tesla offers it on its new cars anyway).
    • They’ll deliver the car anywhere in California for $100.
    • No extra charge (for now – Autonomy says this will “change soon”) for Tesla’s “premium” colors (which means anything but silver or white).
    • Far less than the Hertz weekly Tesla rental.

    Cons:

    • Only available in California as of this writing.
    • No FSD for you! Tesla won’t allow it in subscription-based vehicles.
    • Doesn’t include insurance.
    • Excess mileage over 1,000 a month is charged at 25 cents per mile.
    • You have to pay a big fat “start-up” fee of $5,200, which you can pay all at once or split into 12 payments on top of the $490 regular payment.
    • There’s also a $500 refundable deposit you have to pay upfront.

    If you don’t drive more than 12,000 miles a year and you don’t need a car for gig work, and you’re planning on leasing, it seems like Autonomy is a no-brainer and worth a good hard look. 

    Final words

    How is Autonomy going to make money on this? Who knows? Make money? What’s that? All you need is an app, and a big audience, and the money will eventually start rolling in. Just ask Uber. 

    Seriously, I think Autonomy owns these vehicles and is betting they’ll cash out the residual value when the subscribers are done with them, or maybe they’ll keep making money turning them over to new subscribers. 

    Other car subscription models before Autonomy were usually run by the manufacturer and included insurance… and were generally more costly than leasing. Since Autonomy’s subscription is less than Tesla’s lease plan (contingent on you having good credit), I’m just not seeing a downside versus a lease. Your mileage—literal and figurative—may vary. 

    Would you try a Tesla subscription through Autonomy? Why or why not?

    -Gabe @ RSG

    Gabe Ets-Hokin

    Gabe Ets-Hokin

    Gabe Ets-Hokin is a veteran transportation professional with over 50,000 trips between taxicabs, Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. He's been writing professionally about motorcycles since 2004 and got into writing about Rideshare in 2015. He lives in Oakland, CA with his wife, son and two bitter, unfulfilled cats.