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