Features like remote start or adaptive cruise control are also on the list of potential pay-per-month features.
BMW previewed its latest in-car tech this week. During the presentation the Bavarian carmaker expanded on its partnership with Apple—which will include digital, sharable car keys—and talked about over-the-air (OTA) updates. The first of these updates will arrive later this month, while models with BMW Operating System 7, like the refreshed 5 Series, will arrive with the changes straight from the factory. So far, so good.
It’s later on, when BMW started discussing what it calls Remote Software Upgrade, that the little warning bells start going off in our heads. We’ll let BMW itself describe the scenario:
“BMW already offers its customers digital services and additional vehicle functions in the form of digital after-sales, some of which are deeply embedded in the vehicle’s software. Currently available examples of these services are the High Beam Assistant, Active Cruise Control (ACC) driver assistance system with Stop & Go function, BMW Driver Recorder, BMW IconicSounds Sport, and Adaptive M Suspension (the offer may vary in individual markets). In the near future, additional functions will be added that can access the vehicle’s existing hardware and software, such as certain comfort functions or driver assistance systems.
“In addition, BMW will offer an even greater degree of flexibility in terms of booking periods in the future. Customers will benefit in advance from the opportunity to try out the products for a trial period of one month, after which they can book the respective service for one or three years.”
BMW was quick to point out the positives of this scenario. Plunk yourself into the shoes of a used-car buyer. Eyeing up an off-lease BMW, you might struggle to find a 3 Series or X5 that perfectly hits all the notes you want on that famously long options list. With this plan in place, a modern BMW would have all the options included from the factory, and an owner could pick and choose which ones to have active. From that perspective, it doesn’t sound too bad.
But there’s an uglier side to this too. BMWs aren’t exactly known as affordable as is, so it seems unlikely stickers would head south when every single car rolling off the assembly line has every option box checked. Instead, the costs of all that extra content would shift to buyers—who would then have to pay on top of it just to access the features that came with the car. Things like Adaptive cruise control or automatic high-beams are safety features too; imagine going to use either during a late-night drive home only to get an iDrive pop-up telling you your subscription has lapsed.
As my friend Adam Ismail said over at Tom’s Guide, this has shades of one of the most controversial aspects of video games to it: micro-transactions. In gaming, post-release content released in regular intervals nickel-and-dimes players after the initial purchase. Here we have another revenue stream that looks to benefit shareholders more than the drivers themselves. Adam mentioned the $600 cost for heated seats on a current X6: if toasty buns costs $10 per month, BMW would make that amount back in a few years of ownership. And then there’s the second owner. And the third…
This isn’t the first time BMW has pulled something like this either. It was only two years ago that the German manufacturer wanted to charge owners an $80 annual fee to use CarPlay. That proposal went about as well as a lead balloon, and BMW eventually reverted back to the same approach literally every other manufacturer uses.
There is good news. According to Jalopnik, BMW hasn’t committed to any particular subscription models or pricing structures. And if anything like this does come to fruition, it will be a gradual move.
With so many other aspects of our daily lives moving to subscription services, the car world was bound to adopt it eventually. What do you think of the idea? Let us know in the comments.