When BMW started charging an $18 per month subscription for heated seats in 2022, the backlash was swift and brutal. Customers banded together, urging others not to encourage this type of behavior from automakers, lest it open the door to more perceived avariciousness.
"You've already paid for it!" cried one Reddit user. "The fucking hardware is in your car and you've already paid!"
Customers complained that a subscription for a hardware feature only makes sense if the upfront cost is small or nonexistent -- not when someone has already spent around $50,000 on a luxury car.
Now it appears BMW will no longer charge customers to activate hardware-based functions in the future, according to Autocar's interview with Pieter Nota, BMW board member for sales and marketing. Nota did say, however, that BMW intends to expand its offering of on-demand software services and functions with future models, like driving and parking assistance. The automaker is working to increase connectivity to cars with over-the-air updates.
“We thought that we would provide an extra service to the customer by offering the chance to activate that later, but the user acceptance isn’t that high," Nota told Autocar. "People feel that they paid double – which was actually not true, but perception is reality, I always say. So that was the reason we stopped that.”
Paying for and downloading software services, on the other hand, is well accepted by consumers who are used to that process by dint of having smartphones.
Other automakers are also introducing subscriptions to software services in order to boost revenue. Tesla, for example, famously charges $12,000 (again) for its "Full Self-Driving" driver assistance system. And General Motors aims to have a Netflix-sized subscription business by 2030 by selling services like its OnStar in-vehicle concierge.