BMW Starts Charging Subscription Fees (In Some Countries) To Use Already Installed Hardware

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
bmw starts charging subscription fees in some countries to use already installed

You thought microtransactions were just about charging people to play games. Think again.

Technically, this is not a new thing and dates back to when GM thought it would make big bank from subscription fees for this new-fangled OnStar driver’s concierge thing, and I suppose that many car consumers are already paying a fee to use hardware already installed in their cars and paid for when they use satellite radio, but the news that BMW is now charging subscription fees to use components more associated with standard, non-digital, options grates on me, and I’m not alone.

The item that’s gotten the most attention from a broad spectrum of critics, ranging from right-to-repair advocate, independent Apple repair shop owner Louis Rossmann to the Wall Street Journal is the $18 a month fee for using your front heated seats, though a range of options are on the subscription menu. r/BMW on Reddit is buzzing with criticism, though some are pooh-poohing the news, saying it’s no big deal because BMW isn’t doing this in the United States.

According to the WSJ the program is already active in , , in the , and in , where it will cost you, respectively, the equivalent of $15, $17, $18, and $30 to use your heated seats according to BMW websites in those countries. Consumers have the option of monthly, yearly, three year, and unlimited service plans. For those unsure about taking the plunge, it appears that the Quandt family is generously letting you use them for free for a trial period. It’s been reported that BMW has a similar subscription service going in Korea.

Being able to automatically dim your high beams will run you about $12 a month in the UK. Back in 1952, Cadillac may have charged you the substantial sum of $53.36 (~$600 in rapidly depreciating 2022 dollars) to have your Caddy equipped with GM’s Autronic Eye dimmer system, but it didn’t charge extra to use it.

The truth is that almost everything on a modern car is computer controlled. That switch on your door to lower or raise the window is not directly connecting 12 volts to a motor, it’s triggering a logic circuit that controls a micro solenoid. Since just about every system on your car is connected to the ECU, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that each of those systems can be turned into a subscription fee, no matter how basic you may think they are to the operation of an automobile.

Think of it as a modern, and greedy, spin on what Honda did with the first Accords sold in the United States. At a time when the domestic car manufacturers and dealers were charging for options a la carte, Honda started building every car with air conditioning and a stereo. Putting those options in every car amortized the cost so low that they could afford to do it. Now, if the subscription revenue is high enough, BMW can load every car with just about every option, cutting their costs per option, and reap full retail value and then some if people want to use those options. While you can dicker with the dealer over the purchase price of a car with non-subscription options that you are actually buying, BMW isn’t going to discount a widespread subscription service.

I’m allergic to conspiracy theories, but I’m beginning to suspect that there might be something to that “You will own nothing and you will be happy!” meme.

I’m sure that you have your own opinions on the matter, please share them below.

[Image: BMW U.K.]

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2 of 51 comments
  • Daniel J Daniel J on Jul 15, 2022

    I'm just looking at some of these things. The idea is we need money to improve on these things. Some of these things either work or not. Heated seats? Should be a 1 time purchase. Now, lets look at high beam assist. I have that on my Mazda and it works just fine. The software does get fooled, but rarely. 1. If it doesn't work adequately up front, then it's useless to begin with. and 2) if it does work adequately, how often are they going to provide an update for this feature? Never, right?

  • Daniel J Daniel J on Jul 15, 2022

    I'd also argue that when you buy the car with these options, you get to keep the state of the option. Instead of a subscription plan, why not just offer, through the dealership, updates at a price? I buy a car with driving assist ALREADY and it should never be turned off by the dealer/manufacturer. If I want to opt in for an upgrade, I pay X dollars for that upgrade. Allow customers to pay for the upgrades they want.

  • Inside Looking Out "And safety was enhanced generally via new reversing lamps and turn signals fitted as standard equipment."Did not get it, turn signals were optional in 1954?
  • Lorenzo As long as Grenadier is just a name, and it doesn't actually grenade like Chrysler UltraDrive transmissions. Still, how big is the market for grossly overpriced vehicles? A name like INEOS doesn't have the snobbobile cachet yet. The bulk of the auto market is people who need a reliable, economical car to get to work, and they're not going to pay these prices.
  • Lorenzo They may as well put a conventional key ignition in a steel box with a padlock. Anything electronic is more likely to lock out the owner than someone trying to steal the car.
  • Lorenzo Another misleading article. If they're giving away Chargers, people can drive that when they need longer range, and leave the EV for grocery runs and zipping around town. But they're not giving away Chargers, thy're giving away chargers. What a letdown. What good are chargers in California or Nashville when the power goes out?
  • Luke42 I'm only buying EVs from here on out (when I have the option), so whoever backs off on their EV plans loses a shot at my business.