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We Found Subscription Menus in Our BMW Test Car. Is That Bad?


Technology continues to play an increased role in the daily operation of our cars. For some, the shift has been welcome: stuffing modern technology into our cars has drastically increased available creature comforts during our daily commutes. For others, the addition of all this newfangled tech does nothing but add cost and complication. Not only has technology increased the price of new cars, but every new gadget bolted to your vehicle becomes one more thing to break, further increasing your costs.

Then there’s the issue of getting the tech you actually want in your car. Want leather seats? You’re going to have to step up a trim level. Oh, you wanted a manual gearbox? That’s only available in the base trim. Want a reverse automated emergency braking warning to keep your teenager out of trouble? That’s fine, so long as you don’t mind also buying four completely unrelated features. Perhaps automakers signed up for “Stuffing Riders into Congressional Bills 101” during college and decided they should make car buying just as painful.

Some automakers have been toying with the idea of shifting the buying process. Rather than buying the features and packages you want when buying your new car, the automaker would grant access to the features on a subscription program. Instead of spending thousands on a cold weather package, you could pay for things like heated seats only during the cold months you need them. Cue alarm bells. Indulging for a moment in the slippery-slope logical fallacy, what next? Could companies lock horsepower behind a subscription paywall? What about safety features? Could a company turn off some features the way some tech companies stop supporting old software?


Joe Lorio|Car and Driver

We were recently playing in the menus of a 2023 BMW X1 when we came across a group of screens offering exactly that sort of subscription. BMW TeleService and Remote Software Upgrade showed a message that read Activated, while BMW Drive Recorder had options to subscribe for one month, one year, three years, or “Unlimited.” Reactions from the Car and Driver staff were swift and emotional. One staff member responded to the menus with a vomiting emoji, while another likened the concept to a video-game battle pass.

We reached out to BMW to ask about the menus we found and to learn more about its plan for future subscriptions. The company replied that it doesn’t post a comprehensive list of prices online because of variability in what each car can receive. “Upgrade availability depends on factors such as model year, equipment level, and software version, so this keeps things more digestible for consumers,” explained one BMW representative.

Our X1 for example, has an optional $25-per-year charge for traffic camera alerts, but that option isn’t available to cars without BMW Live Cockpit. Instead of listing all the available options online, owners can see which subscriptions are available for their car either in the menus of the vehicle itself or from a companion app.

BMW USA may not want to confuse its customers by listing all its options in one place, but BMW Australia has no such reservations. In the land down under, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel are available in a month-to-month format, as is BMW’s parking assistant technology. In contrast, BMW USA released a statement in July saying that if a U.S.-market vehicle is ordered with heated seats from the factory, that option will remain functional throughout the life of the vehicle.

The jury is still out on the merits of technology-based-subscriptions in cars. Certainly, allowing customers the freedom to purchase the things they want and need, instead of forcing them to buy entire packages, is not a bad thing. But are endless subscriptions really the best solution for consumers?

In 2019, BMW announced it would charge customers $80 per year for wireless Apple CarPlay. After considerable public backlash, BMW walked back the decision and instead offered the technology for free. BMW is wading into mostly uncharted waters here. The court of public opinion forced BMW to reverse a subscription in the past. If people decide these newer subscriptions are as egregious as the old ones, will they force BMW back again? Or will they instead stick to automakers who sell features outright?

This content is imported from poll. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

This content is imported from poll. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.


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