German Automakers Keep Reimagining Vehicle ‘Ownership’


Volkswagen recently announced that it plans on making massive amounts of money by introducing more vehicles with over-the-air updates (OTAs), many of which will be able to store and transfer personal profiles so that users can effectively just rent their vehicles for eternity. Additionally, VW has suggested future models will have ability to lock features (that have already been physically installed) behind a paywall that users can unlock via subscription services — things like heated seats, satellite navigation, or even the vehicles top speed.

“In the future, our customers will buy, lease, share or rent cars just for a weekend, and we can use software to provide them with whatever they need over the air,” VW brand’s sales chief Klaus Zellmer said during an online presentation held on Tuesday. “The ID family has been designed for further development, with OTA updates to improve the software’s performance and tailor it to our customers’ needs.”

Other German automakers have pitched (or introduced) similar concepts over the last few years and it smacks of the terror that is the World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset” — a plan which envisions a near future were the general populace owns nothing and giant multinational corporations (and their heirs) effectively hold all the cards. It’s the kind of thing one might call you an unhinged conspiracy theorist for believing, until you head over to the WEC’s website to read a dozen or so articles explaining exactly how it’s to be implemented or notice that most Western governments seem to be pushing some variant of the “Build Back Better” campaign. The plot is often the same and hinges upon prioritizing stringent social controls, increased government spending, collaborating with large businesses/banks, and enhanced surveillance in exchange for some vague promises about public safety and environmental reform.

Political implications aside, charging your customers fees for hardware that already exists inside of a vehicle you’ve intentionally deactivated seems truly scummy. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect from a company that might benefit from slave labor, something Volkswagen was accused of doing in Xinjiang, China (ditto for BMW and GM). But the business has denied the allegations, stating that it would never want to repeat the human rights abuses enacted after its 1937 founding by the then-ruling Nazi Party.

That does not preclude VW from committing lesser evils, however.

Automotive News pulled several quotes from the automaker’s digitalization/mobility strategy, which it called an “Innovation Talk,” and managed to snag some truly unsettling lines. This included referencing an article from Germany’s Die Welt where Zellmer suggested VW could charge customers by the hour once autonomous features become more useful.

From AN:

“We assume a price of around seven euros per hour. So if you do not want to drive yourself for three hours you can pay 21 euros to get it done,” Zellmer told the paper.

VW has said the first over-the-air will be available to ID customers before the end of the summer.

Zellmer said he sees the potential for “triple-digit-millions” in sales through over-the-air upgrades.

At least it’s going to make Volkswagen a richer company. It would be awful to think customers would be getting gouged by having every desirable feature locked behind a paywall for nothing. Of course, it won’t just be VW enacting these policies. BMW and Mercedes signaled their interest in launching nearly identical business strategies, as have a few North American brands. German firms just happen to be leading the charge among Western automotive brands.

It’s a shame because over-the-air technology and automotive connectivity provide some genuine benefits to consumers. The industry just seems preoccupied with using them to dilute the customer’s sense of ownership and swipe people’s private data. While the right-to-repair movement has taken up these new practices with legislators, it’s been an uphill battle and they’ve been forced to combat several of the wealthiest industries (and their respective trade organizations) simultaneously.

Based on how automakers already package automobiles, nothing leads me to believe the industry will suddenly price vehicles thousands of dollars lower and then give customers the opportunity to activate features for a reasonable sum. They’re going to screw us and do everything in their power to have total control of the market by just leasing/renting products until the secondhand market evaporates and dealerships serve no practical purpose. It sounds a little kooky but we’re already seeing that take place with direct-to-consumer sales, subscription services, and online car configuration. Volkswagen leadership even made comparisons to other consumer products on Tuesday, suggesting that automobiles should be more like mobile phones.

It sounds just terrible and we haven’t even touched on the creepy inclusion of driving monitoring cameras or just how much information modern cars transmit back to the manufacturer without your knowledge.

Our only real hope of avoiding this fast-approaching nightmare is telling automakers that we’re not interested and making the ones that are pushing it the strongest help themselves to an extra piece of humble pie. If they’re not making any money on these products, they’ll give up the ghost. But today’s shoppers either seem oblivious to the associated perils of the direction were heading or appear genuinely eager to see just how far the industry can implement its technological agenda. Maybe they’ll change their opinion after spending fifty bucks a month so the vehicle they thought they owned can have its top speed upgraded so they can safely merge onto the highway.

[Image: Volkswagen]

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