For those keeping track, that is the second Douglas Adams reference I’ve made in the last two weeks. The “not panicking” part, not the part about BMW’s subscription model, which was big news this past week. If you read the headlines, you saw that BMW will start charging you a monthly fee for your heated seats. If you typed “BMW c” into Google, it filled in the rest for you: “BMW charging monthly for heated seats.” Let that sink in for a minute. Enough people typed that phrase into their search engine that Google offers it as the top auto-complete choice after just four characters (for me at least). Like I said–big news.

Well, it turns out that’s not entirely true, it’s slightly misleading, and BMW, along with other manufacturers, have already been doing this to some extent. First, BMW has stated that it has no plans to bring a subscription model of this granularity to the U.S. It has been available since 2020 in countries that include Germany, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.

Some features such as Adaptive M Suspension and Apple CarPlay only have one activation model: unlimited. [Screenshot from BMW UK’s website.]

Having disabled or deactivated options and hardware built into your vehicle isn’t a new thing. Even my 2015 328i Sport Wagon has features I can pay to “activate”, such as enhanced bluetooth, or an internet connection to pull in “Connected Drive” apps. The car shipped with the hardware in place, it just needs to be activated or enabled after paying for that option. Similarly, some electric car companies are able to increase a vehicle’s performance and range with a software update. The same electric drivetrain is in place across model and trim levels, the owners just need to pay to activate the higher-performance and extended-range levels. Why would they ship the more expensive model’s hardware with the lower trim levels? Well, it’s cheaper for them to develop and mass produce the vehicles that way.

Unlimited steering wheel heat! [Screenshot from BMW UK’s website.]

 

Second–yes, there was a first back in paragraph two somewhere–it’s not a retroactive subscription model. Meaning, if you already paid for your heated seats, you keep your heated seats. Additionally, for new vehicle purchases in places where this subscription model is offered, there’s an “unlimited” option. Unlimited–forget the monthly subscription and just pay for it once. You know, like you would if you paid for each option individually when purchasing a new car through a dealership.

The difference with having a subscription model in place (again–not in the U.S.) is that you’re given more options: pay once (unlimited) or pay in one-month, one-year, or three-year increments. There’s also a free one-month trial for you to test out a feature. I’m assuming that they want you to see what you’ve been missing so that you pony up to either activate the feature permanently or subscribe on some time interval. Funnily enough, when researching “heated seats” online, another Google-suggested search phrase was “Can I add heated seats to my vehicle?” Though that was more along the lines of spending a weekend to install a heated seat kit, not simply enabling a feature.

To clarify their plans for the North American market, here is BMW’s press release from yesterday:

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In response to recent media reports, BMW of North America would like to clarify how the BMW ConnectedDrive Upgrades (also known as Functions on Demand) strategy will be implemented in the U.S. market.

As premium vehicle purchasers, BMW customers in the USA demand a high level of equipment in their vehicles. Options like heated seats are ordered on over 90% of the BMWs sold in the USA. If a vehicle is initially ordered with heated seats, that option will remain fully operational for the life of the vehicle. BMW of North America does not expect factory option purchase levels to change significantly going forward.

BMW ConnectedDrive Upgrades (also known as Functions on Demand) on the other hand is designed to offer premium features through software upload that use data and sensors from factory option hardware already built into BMW vehicles. As an example, some BMW models equipped with certain specific options from the factory can currently add the first two features available in the US – namely a dash cam function called BMW Drive Recorder and BMW Remote Engine Start function—through a software download into the customer’s vehicle. The BMW Drive Recorder feature uses the cameras needed for advanced driver assist systems for dash cam functionality. This gives customers the possibility of adding new software-based functionality and a degree of flexibility in that they will be able to test, and then decide whether or not to purchase a vehicle feature that was not initially available at the time of the original vehicle purchase. 

With BMW ConnectedDrive Upgrade, customers will be able to explore new software-based features on a short-term basis by purchasing a trial, or buying that feature outright for a period of time or for the life of the vehicle.  It is important to note that BMW ConnectedDrive Upgrade is intended primarily as a digital aftersales solution and will not affect options that were ordered at the time of the vehicle purchase. 

Please note that BMW ConnectedDrive Upgrade is part of a global aftersales strategy that BMW has introduced in many markets around the world, including on a small-scale basis in the U.S. The features that are available in this digital aftersales online store will vary from market-to-market.  Customers can browse the available features of their vehicle in their local market BMW ConnectedDrive store.

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Again, all of this is moot for U.S. customers because it’s not being offered in the U.S., but to quote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy just once more this week, “Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.” —Mike Bevels

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