The electric vehicle revolution has not been arriving on its own. Our car ownership habits have been changing too. Or, rather, lack of ownership. Leasing has been growing steadily over the last few years, although the pandemic has made recent figures more erratic. Nevertheless, the EV in particular has been an increasing favourite, with the BVRLA expecting BEV leases to overtake PHEV leases by the end of 2021. This is where Onto saw an opportunity, with a new model for leasing that is more like rental. Onto calls it a subscription. We were given a month to try out the service.
The first stage in your Onto journey is to sign up on Onto’s website, which unsurprisingly involves you showing a valid driving license. Onto uses a novel system to verify it is you on your license by having you take a selfie while holding it in front of you. You also need a debit or credit card, although you don’t get charged for anything at this stage. Then you sign a contract and choose the car you would like to subscribe to, which is when you make that first payment – but just for one month.
There is an increasing range of cars available, and Onto is adding new models on a regular basis. At the time of writing, the options included the Volkswagen E-Up!, Renault Zoe, Hyundai Ioniq, Nissan Leaf, Peugeot e-208, DS 3, Peugeot e-2008, Volkswagen ID.3, Hyundai Kona, Tesla Model 3, Jaguar I-Pace, BMW i3 and Audi e-tron. When we checked, some of these had limited stock and the Model 3 was registering as “Waitlist Full”, so you can’t necessarily have exactly the car you want when you want it. But there is a decent number of options available. Onto will also be adding the enticing Fisker Ocean to its portfolio in 2023.
Once you have chosen a vehicle, selected a delivery date, signed an agreement, and paid for the month, the vehicle will be delivered to you on the chosen date. The delivery driver will let you check the car over to ensure it arrived in pristine condition. They will also answer any questions you might have about the car. In many ways, the experience is like a holiday car rental, but the price is much closer to a lease, which we will come to shortly. One final note is that Onto cars come with a dashcam installed to record any driving incidents.
We subscribed to a DS 3 Crossback E-Tense Ultra Prestige for our test. The monthly cost for this car is now £519 (although it was £529 when we tested), which sounds like a lot for a DS 3. But DS Automobiles’ official Personal Contract Purchase for this model and trim is actually exactly the same – £519 a month, with a deposit of over £3,000 and a near-£16,000 balloon payment at the end. There are cheaper lease deals: Nationwide Vehicle contracts will lease you this car for 48 months for £374.66 a month.
With the Onto subscription, though, you don’t commit to 48 monthly payments, have any large initial deposit to pay or await a gigantic balloon payment to complete the contract at the end. Of course, you also don’t own the car at any point either. But, particularly for EVs, which are clearly developing in abilities very quickly at the moment, this might not be a bad thing. Committing to a car for four years when new models are arriving as fast as they are in the BEV world can really risk your vehicle choice being left behind.
The Onto service is also essentially “all in”. The vehicles come with bp pulse and Shell Recharge cards plus a monthly allowance of 1,000 miles, which could be worth over £300 on its own if you use it up all the time, based on current public DC charging costs. The mileage allowance does not include charging at home, but you can “bolt on” more miles if you need to. There is no deposit to be paid. Insurance is included (so long as you’re over 25), as are maintenance and services (such as they are for EVs), as well as breakdown cover. Onto also mentions road tax but of course that is zero for electric vehicles anyway. However, all Onto cars are pre-registered for London Congestion Charge so you don’t need to worry about that either.
Looking at other cars available from Onto, the Tesla Model 3 Long Range, Jaguar I-Pace and Audi e-tron 55 Quatro Black Edition are all the same £1,299 a month. This does look a bit more expensive, when a Tesla PCP lease for a Model 3 Long Range based on 12,000 miles a year is £579 a month (but with a £6,000 down payment and £21,000 balloon) or hire purchase £797 a month with a £6,000 down payment. Obviously, insurance on a Group 49 car like this will be at least £50 a month, but you would certainly not be using Onto to save money.
Once you have received your car from Onto, which should be close to fully charged, your experience will vary with the car you chose. We will be publishing a full review of the DS 3 we drove shortly, but in general the cars Onto stocks are up the model ranges so generally quite well stocked with features. The DS 3 options are the Performance Line (middle model) and the Ultra Prestige we had (top model). The Peugeot e-208s are the GT Line and GT (the two top trims before Peugeot updated its range at the end of 2020).
With free bp pulse and Shell Recharge charging, but no home charging thrown in, you won’t want to charge from your house supply even if you could. This does mean that your usage of the car will revolve around finding compatible local public chargers, but these two networks together comprise over 11,000 charge points, so you should be able to find something reasonably nearby to use as your go-to stop.
We did have an issue with our bp pulse card initially but got a reasonably quick response from Onto technical support. This was supposed to result in a new bp pulse card, but our existing one appeared to be fixed without this because in a few days it worked. We charged with bp pulse and the Shell Recharge card without much difficulty apart from this and had no other reasons to contact Onto’s support. If you did have a breakdown, cover is provided, although we didn’t have the opportunity to discover how good this was. Onto also provides a smartphone app to help you manage your car booking and charging.
Towards the end of your month, you are prompted whether you want to continue the rental/lease. So long as you sign up in time, you can continue with the car or try something else. The period appears to be seven days, although we also got prompts close to our return date. We suspect that if nobody is waiting for your car then you can rebook it right up to the last minute. Assuming you don’t rebook, you get emails confirming collection details, and then someone shows up at your address to pick up the car. They will check for damage, and you will be charged for anything that isn’t covered under insurance.
Is Onto a cheap way of driving an EV? No. But it is also not as expensive as you might expect, and the lack of commitment required is superb. While we were testing the DS 3, a neighbour had also rather coincidentally obtained a Hyundai Kona Electric via Onto. He was sampling electric while his own car was being fixed. This sums up the benefits of what Onto offers. If you want to try out how the EV experience fits your lifestyle, with no commitments, it is the perfect option, and there are lots of vehicles to suit every need to choose from, ranging from city-focused cars like the Volkwagen E-Up! to longer range options like the Hyundai Kona (all Onto’s Konas are 64kWh versions).
Having absolutely everything in one single monthly payment and no deposit really puts ease of use and user flexibility at the fore. You don’t need to hire a car every month, you can try different models, and you could even just get a car for a month’s road holiday around the British Isles, although that isn't Onto's focus. If you are sure about the EV you want and are prepared to commit for years, purchasing will be cheaper, and purchasing through a business even cheaper. But Onto is definitely onto something with its subscription service. If you’re not sure about EVs but are curious enough to give the concept a try, this could be a very good place to start.
For more information about the Onto service, head to Onto’s website.