BMW May Soon Revive One of Its Worst Ideas

Don't think we're finished with car subscription plans.

bmw x5m driving on a road in the desert

BMW infamously tried to make Apple CarPlay — a feature that comes standard on much humbler automobiles than BMWs — a subscription service a few years ago. Outcry over it caused BMW to back down. But it appears that the German manufacturer has not abandoned its subscription service plans.

Motor 1 has found that the BMW Connected Store in South Korea now offers a range of software upgrades online. One of the features is heated seats. Instead of charging for them at the time of purchase, BMW offers monthly, one-year, three-year or indefinite subscription plan options. Those features can be activated or removed through the car's open-air software updates.

The idea for subscription plans comes over from the tech world. Theoretically, it would offer customers more choice and the ability to try features — like heated seats — before deciding whether to buy them. In practice, it would convert one-time car customers into continuous revenue streams. BMW is far from the only car manufacturer exploring subscription plans. Many of them predict such plans will generate tens of billions per year in revenue by the end of the decade.

Subscription plans for cars feel inevitable. The question will be what buyers are willing to tolerate buying á la carte subscriptions for. BMW charging for Apple CarPlay rankled because it is a feature that buyers were accustomed to getting for free. And it is a feature Apple provides free to automakers and developers.

Features like heated seats should — in theory — be more tolerable for customers. Buyers already pay extra for them. A subscription plan changes how buyers pay for it and, potentially, allows them to pay less if they don't use those features (or only use them from December to February). Though it would stink if those paid-for options end up being transferrable to the second owner.

The most fertile ground for automotive subscription plans will likely be with new tech features. Paying a monthly fee for the Ford or Toyota app that lets you use your phone as a digital key and has your driver settings stored in a cloud profile that can transfer to other vehicles would be more reasonable.


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