If there’s one topic that’s sure to get angry clicks, it’s the one about BMW making some of its car options available as a subscription instead of a one-time purchase.
One headline says, “BMW starts selling subscriptions for heated seats for $18 a month,” and another says, “BMW makes heated seats an $18/month subscription service—again.” But you’d have to read past the headlines and deep into the articles to find out that the automaker has no public plans to bring this subscription model to the US market and that it’s already happening in South Korea.
Not that it has never tried something like this before. If you wanted Apple CarPlay as an extra, you had to pay $80 a year or $300 for 20 years to subscribe to it. But most US consumers didn’t like this change, and when the automaker saw resistance in its second-biggest market, it gave in and made CarPlay standard in most of its models later that year.
In 2020, it showed that it still had plans for cars with software-locked features like adaptive cruise control, high beam assist, or even heated seats. For example, a British person who wants to buy a BMW can pay $888 (750 pounds) to buy the Driving Assistant Plus feature outright. This feature combines adaptive cruise control and lane keeping.
But since the hardware is already in every car, if a buyer didn’t check that box when they bought the car, they can try it out for free for three months and then buy it outright, for one month (42/35 pounds), one year ($415/350 pounds), or three years ($652/550 pounds). (It’s clear that the smart thing to do is to buy the unlimited plan.) BMW has also said that this is a way for a car’s second owner to get features that the first owner didn’t want to buy.
We don’t like this microtransaction model for car options, whether it’s for heated seats or a questionable safety driver convenience feature. For one thing, likely, a car will still be on the road and working long after the server that authenticates the sale has been shut down. So, let’s be thankful that BMW North America doesn’t follow this business model. Yet.