You thought microtransactions were just about charging people to play games. Think again.
Technically, this is not a new thing and dates back to when GM thought it would make big bank from subscription fees for this new-fangled OnStar driver’s concierge thing, and I suppose that many car consumers are already paying a fee to use hardware already installed in their cars and paid for when they use satellite radio, but the news that BMW is now charging subscription fees to use components more associated with standard, non-digital, options grates on me, and I’m not alone.
The item that’s gotten the most attention from a broad spectrum of critics, ranging from right-to-repair advocate, independent Apple repair shop owner Louis Rossmann to the Wall Street Journal is the $18 a month fee for using your front heated seats, though a range of options are on the subscription menu. r/BMW on Reddit is buzzing with criticism, though some are pooh-poohing the news, saying it’s no big deal because BMW isn’t doing this in the United States.
According to the WSJ the program is already active in South Africa, Germany, in the U.K., and in New Zealand, where it will cost you, respectively, the equivalent of $15, $17, $18, and $30 to use your heated seats according to BMW websites in those countries. Consumers have the option of monthly, yearly, three year, and unlimited service plans. For those unsure about taking the plunge, it appears that the Quandt family is generously letting you use them for free for a trial period. It’s been reported that BMW has a similar subscription service going in Korea.
Being able to automatically dim your high beams will run you about $12 a month in the UK. Back in 1952, Cadillac may have charged you the substantial sum of $53.36 (~$600 in rapidly depreciating 2022 dollars) to have your Caddy equipped with GM’s Autronic Eye dimmer system, but it didn’t charge extra to use it.
The truth is that almost everything on a modern car is computer controlled. That switch on your door to lower or raise the window is not directly connecting 12 volts to a motor, it’s triggering a logic circuit that controls a micro solenoid. Since just about every system on your car is connected to the ECU, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that each of those systems can be turned into a subscription fee, no matter how basic you may think they are to the operation of an automobile.
Think of it as a modern, and greedy, spin on what Honda did with the first Accords sold in the United States. At a time when the domestic car manufacturers and dealers were charging for options a la carte, Honda started building every car with air conditioning and a stereo. Putting those options in every car amortized the cost so low that they could afford to do it. Now, if the subscription revenue is high enough, BMW can load every car with just about every option, cutting their costs per option, and reap full retail value and then some if people want to use those options. While you can dicker with the dealer over the purchase price of a car with non-subscription options that you are actually buying, BMW isn’t going to discount a widespread subscription service.
I’m allergic to conspiracy theories, but I’m beginning to suspect that there might be something to that “You will own nothing and you will be happy!” meme.
I’m sure that you have your own opinions on the matter, please share them below.
[Image: BMW U.K.]
Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by subscribing to our newsletter.