By on December 10, 2020

hyundai-sonata-eco-grille logo

Following reports that Hyundai Motor Company managed to purchase American engineering and robotics firm Boston Dynamics from Japanese financial conglomerate SoftBank for a cool $921 million, we’ve learned that the South Korean automaker has also fallen into embracing on-demand features. The trend, which is sweeping through the automotive industry to our dismay, basically involves manufacturers hiding vehicle options behind a subscription paywall instead of just letting you purchase the options you wanted upfront.

That means tomorrow’s car shopper might find themselves buying a vehicle that’s already fully loaded from the factory only find themselves forced to unlock heated seats or an upgraded sound system via monthly payments. In our estimation, the whole concept is ludicrously wasteful, diminishes the private resale values of automobiles, and seems like the kind of corporate nonsense reserved for dystopian fiction novels.

Normally, your author keeps an ear to the ground for this kind of thing. But the sheer volume of unsavory business ideas coming out of the car industry lately has made it difficult to keep track of their now rampant technological shenanigans. Thankfully, CNET was there to recap of Hyundai’s Thursday announcement primarily devoted to teasing the Ioniq 5 EV as the brand attempts to roll out SAE Level 3 autonomous driving via its new platform.

Despite connected vehicles operating under the auspices of someday offering legitimate self-driving capabilities, their ability to shift data is currently being used as a way to monetize customer/driving information. While over-the-air updates can benefit today’s software-heavy automobiles, the industry seems more interested in leveraging ones and zeros for its own gain and it’s exactly what makes subscription-based features possible.

From CNET:

It’s coming as soon as late 2021, according to a sweeping Thursday announcement from the company in which it detailed its near-term strategies, and the minor detail that could usher in big changes for future Hyundai owners’ ties to forthcoming Level 3 partially automated driving functions and the introduction of over-the-air updates. OTA updates aren’t exactly groundbreaking these days as more automakers turn their vehicles into highly connected machines (even the 2021 [Ford] F-150 is OTA-ready), but subscription-based features is a function quickly forging a relationship with such capabilities. Hyundai didn’t detail what it plans to include in its version of the feature subscriptions, however. We’ll surely learn more soon.

As for the purchase of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spin-off Boston Dynamics, Hyundai has refused to commit to anything. Officially, it “cannot comment on market speculations” but The Korea Economic Daily reported that the deal is already done and that Hyundai’s board will finalize the acquisition at its December 10th board meeting. It also said that the automaker had hired Goldman Sachs as its adviser and top Korean law firm Kim & Chang as the legal counsel in its attempt to acquire an engineering firm.

While we can only imagine what kind of fruit this will produce, Hyundai has previously said it would invest up to 1.5 trillion won ($1.4 billion USD) in robotics by 2025. Chairman Chung Euisun also said that robotics would comprise roughly 20 percent of the company’s business moving forward. This is supposed to encompass everything from taxi-like air vehicles and last-mile delivery bots to automated factories.

Boston Dynamics is probably best known for developing the four-legged Spot robot. But it has also produced the humanoid bipedal Atlas and logistics-focused Handle. Sadly, it appears to be in an abusive relationship with all of them.


[Image: Hyundai]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

39 Comments on “Report: Hyundai Embracing Subscription-based Features, Buying Boston Dynamics...”

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    Maybe they’ll make “driver assistance” technology available only by subscription. So I can not subscribe.

    Not one penny for subscription services in any vehicle that I own. Not. One. Penny.

  • avatar

    This “feature-on-demand” stuff is terrible and auto journalist should be slamming manufacturers for planning it and they should be willing to give a vehicle a negative review for implementing it, instead of shrugging their shoulders for fear of losing their access.

    These aren’t things like Sirius that go through a 3rd party. Audi is charging subscriptions for LED headlights, BMW wants to do it for heated seats. Are the cars going to get thousands cheaper as a result of these schemes? It sounds like a brazen attempt to fleece people that are desensitized to having 15 monthly payments.

  • avatar

    Boston Dynamics has such neat tech, but they get tossed around like a hot potato. Help me understand.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m surprised that Boston Dynamics would be allowed to be foreign owned.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed as I thought they had all those DoD contracts. Maybe Hyundai wants to get into the MIC?

      • 0 avatar

        “I’m surprised that Boston Dynamics would be allowed to be foreign-owned.”

        What they’re doing isn’t anything special. I’m one of many smaller competitors that are perfectly capable of doing everything they do and more. I even have a robotic dog I could print-up and build and it could function and behave identically to theirs. It’s the enhanced capabilities that can go on the basic platforms that get the government’s attention. I do “enhancements” and even my development tools are government regulated. I can’t even download a software update for the tools without government notification and approval first.

        FWIW, maybe half of Hyundai’s Autonomous Driving Research group is a short drive away in Cambridge and Boston’s Seaport District.

        “Agreed as I thought they had all those DoD contracts. Maybe Hyundai wants to get into the MIC?”

    • 0 avatar

      Hyundai plans to program the robotic dog to go after Hyundai owners who fall behind in their 0% down, 84 monthly payment contracts.

  • avatar

    It used to be that you bought an item outright. You selected what you wanted, paid the seller a lump sum and went on your way. When it came time to replace the item, you did the same thing again. Sellers no longer want to operate that way. They want to lease the item to you, rent it to you, call it a subscription. Anything to get you paying them something every month.

    There are two reasons for the change. One is that the previous model created an unreliable income stream for the seller. Some people replace things frequently. Others keep them as long as possible. Except for maintenance costs, sellers get little or nothing from you in between replacements.

    The other reason is that, in an outright sale, someone who keeps things a long time gets by with lower annual ownership costs. Charging by the month eliminates this advantage. Somebody who keeps his vehicle for five years pays $60X for his heated seats. Somebody else, who keeps it for twenty, pays $240X for the same seats.

    • 0 avatar

      “call it a subscription”

      I call it stealing.

    • 0 avatar

      @Kendahl, very well said.

      “It used to be that you bought an item outright.”

      In the distant past, some of the things you purchased were essentially lifetime buys – built solid with all the failure points worked out years before you came along. Drawback: they could be relatively expensive.

      Then manufacturers figured out they could use thinner steel, cheaper components, etc. – and also started substituting plastics with a limited in-use lifetime. Good news: more affordable. Bad news: you are now on essentially a ‘subscription’ model where you toss the broken one and buy a new one every X years. Most people have gotten used to this.

      Ways to fight back:
      a) Find the failure points in your specific use case (by using it until it breaks) and then fix the point of failure in a more long-lasting way.
      b) Examine the item closely upon purchase and immediately modify it to suit your purposes better and/or last longer in the way you intend to use it.
      c) Purchase raw materials and make what you need. Example: I have forged some custom items for myself which suit my purposes exactly and easily have a ~50-year expected life.

  • avatar
    Bill Wade

    Nope, keep it.

  • avatar

    Agreed Lou. My impression was that their product has potential military applications. Robots and drones will dominate future battlefield. If you want to know how future war will look like look no further that Azeri-Armenian war that started and ended in couple of month. It was enough time for Azeri drones to wipe out Armenian army which was heavily entrenched WW1 style and was considered superior just 30 years ago.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Uh-oh. I may have to turn in my H/K fan card.

  • avatar

    Then there’s “creatively” poor data keeping which has already allowed Tesla to charge a used buyer of one of their slotcars for a feature the original owner paid for in full. Mumble, mumble, “we can’t find that original sale in our records, sorry, you’re $12K out of luck” mumbl,e whine, rip off.

    When I bought my new car 18 months ago, the bill of sale was from the dealer, and so far as I’m concerned it’s mine. No manufacturer involvement. I signed no contract with the manufacturer. Unless THEY pay ME for access to my belongings, they can go whistle Dixie. But no doubt it reports home to Daddy about my movements anyway, even though I was never informed of that “feature” or acquiesced to its operation, for which I would have charged rent myself. So, a feature of car reviews in future would be to list the “subscription” features, and subsequently for an aware buyer to demand the salesman produce a list of these shady “features” that cost money, before the sale not afterwards.

    This newish rentier model of neoliberalism is for that monthly stream of payments so beloved by electricity, gas and water utilities for a century. But they are regulated monopolies. These car companies are non-regulated money grubbers, gung ho to repeat that maneuver without permission from anyone. Everywhere I look these days, every damn thing is monetized by big money corporatism, including government. I’m fed up with it. I didn’t last this long so that I could be indebted to some grubby filthy-rich semi-criminal with their hand eternally in my pocket. It’s all being done mainly in stealth, and before the population knows it, they’ll be thoroughly screwed and in indentured servitude forever.

    You know what you have to do. Don’t forget.

  • avatar

    Companies do this subscription BS on a lot of products, and for me, it’s a “NOPE, I’m not buying anything from a company that does this, period”.

    • 0 avatar

      nrd, I think that’s a fine idea. But if everybody or a monopolist is doing it, it can be hard to avoid. Hence the dilemma that farmers face as John Deere has bent them over the No Right To Repair barrel.

  • avatar

    Services make sense. Sat radio and such. Functional items do not.

  • avatar

    The advent of subscription-based features on vehicles explains why so many once easily accessible buttons and switches have become hidden functions inside touch screen menus. Follow this to its dystopian conclusion and what do we get? Cars as rolling bricks sold like cable TV services with multiple subscription packages required to operate the vehicles.

    It sounds absurd to imaging subscribing to basic automotive features locked behind touchscreens such as radio/multimedia and even HVAC, but future generations won’t even bat an eye at the idea of subscribing to their lifestyle, especially if zeitgeist shifts to the idea of ownership of tangible goods being selfish or even evil.

    • 0 avatar


      “if zeitgeist shifts to the idea of ownership of tangible goods being selfish or even evil.”

      I’m sure they could come up with the “logic” to label it racism, misogyny, white privilege/fragility or whatever like they do anything that gives them a bad hair day.

      Oops. I forgot. They have already decided that “logic” and “truth” are symptomatic of “whiteness” (whatever that is).

      I think this whole subscription thing sucks.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    This is what economists are calling “the great reset”.

    Where you don’t actually own anything in your property, but you are still going to be happy about it.

  • avatar

    “But I want to OWN my stuff!”

    Says the modern consumer as they listen to Spotify in their car that only has 88 payments left.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • SCE to AUX: +1
  • ajla: I don’t understand the logic of the neck-break that Stellanis does between “we are going all EV and...
  • jack4x: It was true then too.
  • Arthur Dailey: Would it not make more sense to make this vehicle propane powered? Then it could use the propane to...
  • Fred: They said the same thing about Nader and all that safety stuff too.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber