By on July 1, 2020

The future’s weird, man. As wireless, over-the-air (OVA) software updates become an increasingly common thing in the auto industry, OEMs have weighed its potential. It opens doors to new ways of doing business. New ways of outfitting cars.

New ownership experiences, too.

Frankly, what BMW wants to pull on its customers would make a good QOTD. Some background, first.

Roadshow has a good rundown of what BMW proposed during a German presentation Wednesday. Basically, after saying current-model vehicles running BMW Operating System 7 are capable of OVA updates (the first update will occur this month), the automaker waxed poetic about its plan to turn certain options into a service.

A potentially temporary service, not unlike your Netflix account.

Normally bundled into packages, these options — heated seats, adaptive cruise, automatic high beams and the like — could become something a buyer would pay for until they don’t feel like paying anymore. This, while making payments on the car itself.

Sure, buyers are used to paying for things like satellite radio after an initial grace/trial period, but this move would bump things up a notch. And it’s a two-sides thing, with pros and cons aplenty.

In the near future, buyers could choose to pay-as-you-go for a feature they only want on a temporary basis. Take the nifty headlamps and toasty seats, for example. Great to have for half the year. Then again, the mere ability to be able to log in and off from these features means the car left the factory with the necessary hardware installed. Paying more for a feature your car already has? And who’s to say the cost of that feature isn’t already baked into the vehicle’s sticker price? That’s bound to rub many the wrong way.

For an automaker, it streamlines the production process. Outfit all build configurations with much of the same software and hardware (thank you, economies of scale), then rake in extra money after the fact by having buyers pay to unlock certain features. It’s positively Tesla-like in its brilliance/sleaziness, though the possibility of offending loyal buyers is very real.

From Roadshow:

These options will be enabled via the car or the new My BMW app. While some will be permanent and assigned to the car, others will be temporary, with mentioned periods ranging from three months to three years. Some, presumably, will be permanent, but during the stream’s Q&A portion BMW representatives demurred on the details

Okay, B&B — based on what you’ve heard thus far, what’s your take on this potential business tactic? If a Bimmer exec blundered into your house looking to use the washroom, what questions would you have them answer before allowing them to leave?

[Image: BMW]

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33 Comments on “Annoyment Optional: BMW Envisions a Future of Temporary Features...”

  • avatar

    That’s okay, I wasn’t planning to buy one of these boring, poorly styled, overpriced, unreliable piles of junk anyway.

  • avatar

    “Sorry, your credit card was declined, your option windshield wiper package is unavailable. Please log into your account to update your billing information.”

  • avatar
    Master Baiter


    I’m sure all automakers will move in this direction as more and more hardware features come under software control.

    I’m approaching a station in life where I might prefer shopping for a new golf cart vs. an automobile.

  • avatar

    Imagine what this will do to resale value when half the buttons in the car won’t work until the new owner signs up for a subscription.

  • avatar

    I think this kind of thing sucks, but BMW isn’t the only one trying to make it happen. Tesla nearly does it already and we’ve talked in the past about Mercedes and GM daydreaming about it. I’m sure every automaker that isn’t Lotus and Morgan would be fine with adding a multitude of subscriptions and advertising to their products.

  • avatar

    From a logistics, planning, and production standpoint, this makes tons of sense: product variation is one of the most expensive issues that automakers deal with. I recall an article I read about 7 years ago that alluded to there being something like 20,000 possible manufacturing configurations of the BMW 3-Series.


    Now, will the automakers “lower the price” of the car with the features turned off? That’s the big question. BMW already tested this with Apple CarPlay on the new G20 3-Series and the public backlash was bad enough that BMW dropped the goofy subscription a few months ago.

    I like the idea of being able to add features after the fact: laser lights, BMW park assist or drive assist, heated seats, etc. The question becomes one of price: If park assist is a $500 feature and drive assist is a $1700 feature,amortized across a 60 month purchase that’s around $40/mo. Residualized in a 36 month lease, even less. I don’t know how you make these “on demand, subscription services” a reasonably priced affair.

    Then again, perhaps the efficiencies gained on the manufacturing, logistics, and sales side make it well worth it.

  • avatar

    Lame. At first I thought that if you paid for the “options” at purchase time you could easily configure a lot car to your liking without ordering. That would be pretty cool, though if anybody thinks that you are not paying for that dormant equipment anyway, I have a nice bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in. However, a shameful attempt to fleece customers with monthly charges long after the car leaves the lot is nothing anybody should support. This is another notch up from monthly charging for CarPlay. Our only hope to prevent this is for buyers to refuse to purchase vehicles that are sold this way. If the bulk of the customer base flips them the bird, this stupid drain-the-customer model will die like it deserves to. With cable/Cellphone/Netflix/XM radio/etc being on every monthly bill who would opt for more perpetual parasitic drain?

  • avatar

    Another reason to drive older models – thanks, but no thanks.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I’ve mentioned before that my 2019 IS300 came with a subscription for 1 free year of the Lexus app which includes remote start. It’s the only way to have remote start. And sure enough at the one year mark I lost access to the app and thus remote start.
    I find it annoying but it obviously didn’t stop me from buying the car. But if it became too many options it likely would.

    There’s also a joke somewhere in there about a BMW turn signal app expiring unused after 1 year…

  • avatar

    Nice. BMW will get to continue to bend customers over when they buy used, err, cpo cars and make those suckers pay for an option that’s already been fully amortized. Cha-ching!

    Here’s the problem:

    Since BMW hasn’t made a reliable car in decades, what happens when said feature fails and BMW centers have to fix it? It seems implicit if I am a subscriber that if something goes wrong with said electronic/motor/etc, that BMW has to pay to fix it.

    • 0 avatar

      Nooooo! They’ll bill you twice. They’ll keep billing you for the subscription to the broken button, then you’ll have to pay to get it fixed.

  • avatar

    Remember when some geek found the ethernet port inside a Model S and Musk went batcrap crazy?

    And you thought the performance chip business was booming.

    Then again: “We’re sorry, but you didn’t pay for the +1 tire license. Therefore, your broken suspension won’t be covered under warranty.”

  • avatar

    OK, hear me out.

    People like BMWs so there will always be a market for BMWs
    People will not like subscription services on their cars, at least until that is all you can buy.


    1. Buy old BWMs for pennies, restore them to their former glory with any number of updates/ upgrades like modern lights, heated seats, and Carplay.

    2. Sell these BMWs like Singer sells Porches or those companies sell old Land Rovers.

    3. Profit

    Who’s in?

    • 0 avatar

      It’s already happening, been happening for years. The auto aftermarket has been growing exponentially for years, automakers know it and see the writing on the wall. I’ll tell you where they can stick it. And their corporate greed.

      New car sales have been stagnating for years, so their only answer is turning up the heat on built-in obsolescence and other crap. To keep up us coming back?

      The aftermarket is on it though, all over it. Automakers are now sneaking into SEMA trying to sell their own “upgrades”. And trying to sell “dealer installed” upgrades, tunes and “packages”. In other words, the way they should’ve built them in the first place.

  • avatar

    I would love to see this backfire in a major way when some 15 year old kid figures out how to hack the proprietary software. Remember in back of old car mags the ads for bmw service reset tools? That 100X

    • 0 avatar

      @ Crashdaddy: I was wondering the same thing. What would keep someone from turning stuff on if everything is already there? Time, determination and expertise most likely. My guess is turning on features not paid for would only be temporary as the OEM most likely will have a way to monitor each vehicle to gather billing info for features in use. Still, I could see someone attempting the hack just to have the satisfaction of succeeding in doing so regardless of how long the hack lasts.

    • 0 avatar

      Of course it will happen, but when it comes to software its a question of how many people will pirate it?

      Case in point: you can install MacOS on virtually any Intel based machine you want. It’s a pain to do it, and pirated installs are less than 1% of the user base. Same goes for Windows 10 upgrades on older Windows 7 devices: yeah, you can do it, but the vast majority of people don’t.

      Will people hack their cars? Sure – just like people hack their ECUs and chip their engines. The percentage of owners who do this doesn’t make it worth the manufacturers’ effort to prevent it.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      A fabulous idea. But then you’d have to keep the car off the Internet so the manufacturer can’t discover what you’ve done. I’m fine with that – even if I give up over-the-air updates.

      If I ever buy another brand-new car (a big if), I will find a way to make sure there is no access via the Internet. I don’t need Big Brother (industry not the government) tracking me everywhere I go – and selling the information to third parties.

      My phone is all the Internet I require when I’m in my car – location services turned off except in the very rare instances when I might use navigation. And you can even get around that if you use a Garmin GPS unit instead.

    • 0 avatar

      Tesla has already been hacked and there is an aftermarket performance upgrade available. You just have to back out the update before performing any OTAs.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    As most new BMW buyers are temporary owners keeping their cars for 3 years and 36,000 or so miles, this makes sense.

    I am a serial leaser BTW, and anything beyond a 3 series still scares me.

  • avatar

    Any car maker that pulls this crap will lose quite a few customers.
    Thankfully there are enough analogue-ish cars available to last my lifetime.
    Screw ’em. This is BS.

    • 0 avatar

      Their actions are as if we need them more than they need us. And it’s not like they’re giving the sh!t away. OK some fools do need them, I’ve been one of them, can’t say it won’t happen again.

      Except I got the (near) base model, the aftermarket (and junkyard upgrades) did the rest. The next time I’ll lease the base model, 17 inch steel wheels, cloth/vinyl, 3 inch screen, column shifter, etc, drive it like it’s stolen, minimal maintenance, they can deal with it after that (and I know they won’t want it!)

  • avatar


  • avatar

    You mean they’ll come with all hardware standard, and all I have to do is figure out how to unlock it in software? Not that it applies to me, but that’s great news.

    To echo a comment above, this is going to make some 15 year olds very wealthy.

  • avatar

    This is beyond stupid. However as mentioned above BMW tried this with an Apple CarPlay monthly fee and it failed massively. I’m OK with pay to unlock, but having it expire? That is total nonsense! My worry, as someone who buys used vehicle, is what happens when the software that does the unlocking becomes EOL? I assume the aftermarket will step in but it is discouraging to see an OEM take this approach to “features”.

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