I read a while back that BMW is going to let owners get subscriptions to options such as heated seats. The way I understand it, your car will already come with all the options, but the company can turn them on or off remotely. I guess that lets you buy a cheaper car upfront and subscribe to options as you can afford them. Is this already happening? Are other companies doing this? – Jordan, Halifax
Some day, you might have to pay monthly for Netflix, Spotify – and your heated steering wheel.
But that’s not happening anytime soon, at least not in North America, BMW says.
“In Canada, that doesn’t exist – there are no plans for that,” says Barb Pitblado, BMW Canada spokeswoman. “Canadian and U.S. vehicles are already equipped with [more options than cars in Europe], so we don’t feel it’s necessary.”
In July, Business Insider reported that BMW was launching “digital personalization,” which would let owners add certain options through software updates.
But that doesn’t mean that BMW will start selling subscriptions for options – including heated seats and adaptive cruise control – that were added to cars in the factory, Pitblado says.
“Right now, we have digital aftersales,” says Mike DeMelo, BMW Canada senior connected-drive specialist. “For example, when we launched the X5 in 2018, it didn’t come with remote engine-start, so this year, we launched a software upgrade that adds that.”
That means owners of some newer models can go on the Internet and add remote engine-start ($550) or adaptive suspension ($660) to their cars without having to go into the dealership, DeMelo says.
That price is higher than buying the options when the car was new, DeMelo says.
Since it’s not a subscription, you only have to pay once.
“If the customer doesn’t like it, we offer them a full refund within 30 days,” DeMelo says.
Once you buy the options, they stay with your car – even if you sell it, DeMelo says.
BMW still offers annual subscriptions for some digital services, including $75 a year for map updates.
After an outcry last year, BMW stopped charging customers a $100-a-year annual subscription to use Apple CarPlay and switched to a $300 one-time purchase.
Are subscriptions the future?
In the near future, when the temperature drops to -20 C, could you get e-mails or texts from your car company asking if you want to add heated seats?
“It would be more like: Wouldn’t it be nice to have the Winter Package you didn’t order last summer with your new car?” says George Iny, president of the Automobile Protection Association (APA). “Just $19.95 a month for heated seats, steering wheel and mirrors.”
While car companies don’t offer subscriptions for those sorts of options yet, they might eventually, Iny says.
“For an electric vehicle, this could be one way to compensate the automaker for the lost business in replacement parts for service and repairs, compared to a gasoline vehicle,” Iny says. “It will also make comparing [new car] prices even more tricky than it is now, since the monthly fees will likely not be factored into the advertised price and will vary between brands.”
There are other ways car makers could try to use this tech to make money. For instance, if you sell your car, automakers could take away features you’ve paid for and make the new buyer pay for them again.
Tesla has already been criticized for removing features, including enhanced Autopilot, from used vehicles, Iny says.
Chris Robinson, an analyst with Lux Research, thinks we’ll see companies slowly add more subscription-based digital services before we see subscriptions for more traditional options such as heated seats or all-wheel drive.
“I don’t think there will be this mass dramatic shift to having all the features in the car being subscription-based,” Robinson said. “But we’ll need subscriptions eventually if we’re going to have autonomous cars – so companies want to get consumers used to the idea that they have to pay for services.”
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