Automotive

BMW will start charging by the month for smart cruise and seat heaters

BMW will start charging by the...
Built-in options will soon become subscription services under BMW's new sales model
Built-in options will soon become subscription services under BMW's new sales model
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Built-in options will soon become subscription services under BMW's new sales model
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Built-in options will soon become subscription services under BMW's new sales model
Highly connected cars enable over-the-air updates and feature switching
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Highly connected cars enable over-the-air updates and feature switching

BMW is looking to start standardizing its manufacturing processes, selling cars with options like adaptive cruise, smart headlights and active suspension built in, and then charging car owners on a monthly or yearly subscription model to use them.

It's a model that'll be familiar to Tesla owners, and an interesting sign of the times as the automotive industry starts to position itself for a future mobility-as-a-service model in which our traditional concept of car ownership itself might start to dissolve.

BMW itself will take an initial hit on the (not inconsiderable) cost of some of the hardware involved, but there are procedural advantages to giving every car the hardware to enable things like heated seats, Driver Recorder dashcams, the IconicSound Sport electric car engine noise designed by Hans Zimmer, and a range of other systems. If every seat has a heater built in, and every windscreen has a LiDAR system for adaptive cruise, there's that many fewer parts to design, manufacture and keep track of.

Enabling and disabling features is super simple thanks to today's highly connected car systems, and this allows BMW to do things like hand out a month's worth of free smart high beams or fancy suspension to whet a driver's appetite or placate an irate customer.

Highly connected cars enable over-the-air updates and feature switching
Highly connected cars enable over-the-air updates and feature switching

From the driver's point of view, it might be annoying to feel like you don't "own" all the options in your car. But on the other hand, a monthly, quarterly or yearly price might be easier to come at than a single big slug at the time of purchase, and it'll certainly be tempting to have those options sitting there ready to go if you find yourself with some spare cash and a track day or a long road trip coming up.

Retrofitting big-ticket options like these would be pretty much unthinkable to base-model car owners under the current system, so the fact that they're pre-installed and just need turning on gives drivers options they've never had in the past.

BMW is gambling on those subscriptions paying out well into the future, as the car is passed through several owners, and we'd be surprised if we didn't see more manufacturers moving to this kind of model in the coming years.

BMW made the announcement as part of its Connected Car Beta Days 2020 event, in which it also announced a new cloud-based navigation system with connected parking, the ability to use an iPhone as a fully digital and secure vehicle key, an updated Intelligent Personal Assistant that will now turn its virtual head to directly address whoever speaks to it, and a system of BMW Points you can earn by driving a zero-emissions BMW in certain zones.

Source: BMW

18 comments
Bob Stuart
I would rent a whole car, but never part of one.
Brian M
The use of the word 'dumb' comes quickly to mind as does the word 'opportunity' - its software so it can be hacked or for the more conservative amongst us just hot wire them!
paul314
This has so, so many possibilities to go wrong. There's the obvious, like smart cruise control cutting out on an urban highway because of some payment snafu, or the usual vendor web sites that let you start up a recurring charge but don't let you cancel it again. But with the complex software that is a computing cluster that happens to have wheels and an engine, you might also see unexpected interactions that can only be exposed by exhaustive testing. What other car functions depend on the ones that are being activated or cancelled at any time? What's the list of potentially cancellable features?

Somebody else drive the first few generations of this one.
SteveBarry
I think this is a marketing mistake much like their program which let you drive a variety of cars. I wouldn’t bother.
f8lee
I think Brian M is on to something - how long will it be before some enterprising hackers either hack into a BMW to wreak havoc on the car, or sell BMW owners some code which gives them those lovely accessories for free with a one time payment?

Of course, in this age of IP being king, where John Deere does not allow the farmers who purchase their 6-figure tractors to work on them as it would create intellectual property issues, perhaps the entire concept of people really "owning" things is becoming passe.

In their book "The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy" authors Aaron Perzanowski and Jason Schultz talk about such things.
Alien
This will add to weight and hence impact fuel efficiency, particularly in certain instances. Take, for example, heated seats. This would never be used in many hot and tropical countries - so why 'lug around' all that extra weight? ...and the additional electronic complexity involved in these systems? While I can appreciate economic advantages in reducing the product variants and options, I suspect this might be a move too far.
Rocky Stefano
I can't wait to see the mods coming out on the darknet for $1500 that completely unlocks every option in your car. Personally I don't like this. You can either buy the car fully loaded or not. If I live in a cold region then you know I'm going to want seated seats. Why would I rent them?
CraigAllenCorson
No. Just NO.
BlueOak
Haha, good luck with that, BMW. I can see building all the cars the same way For production efficiencies - that already happens with some items like wiring harnesses. And charging a customer to “buy” (Activate) the feature at a later date could also be an interesting experiment. But “rent” the feature on a monthly basis? Silly.
MartijnRaaijmakers
Great, then I'll only have to pay for heated seats in the winter months...... And for the wipers only when it rains......