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Are In-Car Feature Subscriptions Actually a Good Thing?

When you road-test and review cars as often as I do, it’s rare that a trip behind the steering wheel will elicit any real surprises, but that’s exactly what happened recently. While shuffling through the menu of a car I was lucky enough to review, I found out that a few of the features have been locked behind a subscription paywall. It was an intriguing reveal and admittedly quite a change from the normal behaviour we’ve been accustomed to from carmakers. The car buying process has been straightforward and quite archaic with one required to get a higher trim level with other unwanted fripperies to get a particular feature. Want a piece of driver-oriented convenience? Well, you must put up with the garishness of a top-end trim, while those wanting a manual gearbox will need to be willing to let go of many features they may prefer to keep as more often than not manual is only available with the base trim.

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Image: BMW

In terms of new technologies that cars are increasingly being stuffed with, the matter has grown out of hand with car-makers scratching their heads on how to change the buying process. With modern-day cars requiring a myriad of new technologies, car-makers like BMW are toying with the idea of offering subscription-based features.

For example, you can pay for heated front seats, BMW’s ‘driving sound’, or even a high-beam assistant via a subscription model. There are a lot of complications surrounding this issue, but some car-makers are exploring the possibilities it offers.

In car feature subscriptions 2

Image: BMW

For car buyers, this can be a good thing as it doesn’t force one to get a feature that’s not required. After all, one only really needs heated seats in winter, so why pay for them all the time? However, the increased complexity surrounding this practice is certainly an obstacle as is the thought process of the buyer.

In the past, BMW has been forced to retreat after it received backlash for charging buyers for wireless Apple CarPlay, but this could be the model moving forward. Despite the automotive world embracing an avalanche of new initiatives like online car buying to removing the concept of a showroom altogether, the thought process of the buyer is resistant to change. It’ll be interesting to see how the markets react to the BMW subscription plan when the brand rolls it out; it’s currently being tested for some select regions only.

BMW Australia, for example, charges consumers for a month, year, or an unlimited subscription to certain features. This is done via OTA updates and arch-rival Mercedes-Benz is also exploring similar options. While the road to embracing or implementing in-car feature subscriptions isn’t a rosy one, the future might see a paradigm shift in the way automotive technology is presented for consumption.


Image: Cadillac