BMW IS exploring the idea of subscription-based vehicle options such as heated seats, cruise control and sports suspension.
The “Remote Software Upgrade” system, available for cars with the latest Operating System 7, allows customers to keep their vehicles up to date, adding or booking additional vehicle functions “over the air”, and in the future some functions will be available on a subscription basis, it said.
BMW already offers customers the opportunity to add features such as High Beam Assistant, Active Cruise Control, the IconicSounds Sport exhaust note upgrade and Adaptive M Suspension as a digital after-sales upgrade, but the subscription model for these items is new.
And the company says that “in the near future”, additional comfort functions (such as heated seats) or driver assistance systems could be made available for a rolling fee, too.
Details and pricing are yet to be announced, though BMW confirmed customers will be offered a trial period of one month, after which they can book the respective service for one or three years. Business publication Forbes suggested that short-term subscriptions of less than 12 months could also be available, such as adding heated seats during only winter months.
The company said it “provides the hardware and software in the vehicle ex factory for the implementation”. That could mean vehicles roll off the production line fully-equipped with the latest tech, driver aids and gadgets but customers would have to pay rolling fees in order to activate each one. This adds convenience, it said, as vehicle functions not requested at the time of purchase could be added later, meaning a second owner could configure their used vehicle according to their own requirements.
However, critics may be concerned that if the cars leave the factory with the top technology — including heated and ventilated seats (perhaps also capable of a massage function) — already installed, then their additional production costs will have been covered by the first owner. Any on-going fees might be seen as profiteering, especially if owners are still paying BMW towards the end of the car’s life, long after the car first hit the road.
For BMW, a Netflix-style subscription model makes sense not only in terms of ongoing income, but also in terms of production costs, Forbes claimed. A one-size-fits-all car is easier (and therefore cheaper) to build than one designed to exacting specifications by its buyer.
But for owners, it could spell frustration. As Forbes put it: “Imagine hitting the heated seat button on a cold morning, only to be told your subscription has expired.”
BMW previously charged customers an annual fee for Apple Carplay integration, before a backlash from customers forced it to give it away at no extra cost – as other car makers do (including the likes of SsangYong). However, the concept outlined this week would take subscription-based motoring to a whole new level.
It was announced during a virtual reality press conference introducing the German car maker’s new features for Operating System 7, which will debut on the new 5-Series’ infotainment system this month and be added to other compatible models already on the road via a free over-the-air software upgrade in the autumn.
Updates include a new “faster, more intuitive and more accurate” version of BMW Maps, which will also automatically allow emission-free local driving for plug-in hybrids; BMW Digital Key, which allows your iPhone to work as your car key; the introduction of Android Auto (finally!); and a smarter version of BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant that can distinguish between the driver and passenger.
A spokesperson for BMW GB told Driving.co.uk that at the moment, there are two digital upgrades available to UK customers, and they’re available for a one-off fee. And while subscription models may be introduced in other countries, any suggestion that they’ll be rolled out to the UK would be pure speculation. They said that customers here tend to spec their cars highly, so subscriptions for some basic comfort functions might not be relevant.