Could Buying Extra Car Features on a Monthly Plan Become The Norm?

Let’s take a look at the ramifications of the introduction of in-car services on a subscription basis.

Could Buying Extra Car Features on a Monthly Plan Become The Norm?

We’ve become accustomed to paying monthly subscriptions for services like Netflix, Spotify and Amazon Prime, but are we about to see the features in our cars become subscription-based?

The notion of monthly subscriptions for in-car features like smartphone integration, live maps and intelligent personal assistants could soon become a reality as BMW announce that its new operating system will offer drivers the chance to pay on a monthly basis for the services that they want in their cars. 

Speaking at a VR press event, the German manufacturer announced a series of updates coming to support the company’s Operating System 7 in late 2020 while taking viewers on a virtual drive through Munich to show off some of the new subscription services. 


(Image: TechCrunch)

While BMW see the move as a liberating one for drivers, claiming that subscription services will “offer maximum flexibility and peace of mind to our customers when it comes to choosing and using their optional equipment in their BMWs, whether this BMW is new or used,” others argue that introducing premium subscriptions for in-car features may lead to a slippery slope where the significance of car ownership may be lost. 

With rumours of more manufacturers like Tesla and Cadillac edging towards introducing similar services for car owners, let’s take a look at the ramifications of the introduction of in-car services on a subscription basis: 

Building on The Notion of a Perpetually Updating Car

George Iny, Automobile Protection Association president, claims that Tesla were the architects in getting drivers used to the deep interconnectivity of vehicles and their respective manufacturers - even though Tesla cars are yet to carry out monthly charges for services. 

“We’re already at the point where if you don’t accept Tesla’s updates because of a malfunction in the operating system of your car, more and more features become inoperable, and ultimately the car may go out of service,” Iny explained. 

This perpetual contact with manufacturers means that cars can offer more intelligent services that are only implemented when owners make a purchase. Upon a driver buying an in-car service online, the manufacturer can issue a quick software update which unlocks the specific feature bought and continues supplying it to the vehicle until the company stops receiving payments. 

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that BMW has issued subscription-based services for their cars. In 2019, the manufacturer was offering Apple CarPlay to buyers for $100 per year in Canada - or a 20-year subscription for $400. After meeting fierce resistance at the move, BMW ultimately decided to back down and enable drivers to use the service for free

How Subscription Services Could be Implemented

While there is a perhaps understandable level of resistance facing BMW in the aftermath of its announcement, a future in which drivers pay for different features on a subscription-basis seems like an inevitable step. 

The Irish Times has advised readers to prepare for the ‘new normal’ of paying for optional extras on their cars. The rise of cloud computing and Internet of Things technology has provided manufacturers with something of an open goal when it comes to building a continuous passive income through cars already sold. 

Through the power of remote updates, new features can be introduced on in-car operating systems much like how smartphones update themselves, and owners can choose to pay more for services that appeal to them. 

Although there’s a very valid argument to be made by drivers who have grown accustomed to paying high prices for cars that they believe they fully own only to be told that certain features are going to be moved behind a paywall, there could be room for a successful implementation of subscription services. 

If manufacturers are willing to class their on-board technology as an optional subscription service, we may see the prices of vehicles reflect only the component parts of the motor. If this were to be implemented, then it could see an end to drivers feeling short-changed at paying premiums for features that they feel they’ll never use. 

Are In-Car Subscriptions The Future?

For better or worse, it seems inevitable that manufacturers will follow in the footsteps of BMW in implementing subscription-based features in vehicles. The notion of obtaining a fixed monthly income rather than relying on vehicle sales will likely be too tempting to pass up. 

While buyers of smartphones may be used to buying packages with built-in data and minutes, drivers may soon be getting used to seeing packages for a car and intelligent navigation systems or on-board Spotify connectivity. 

However, despite its potential for helping drivers to pick and choose their services in the short term, the interconnectivity of cars and manufacturers could lead to more severe ramifications. We may even eventually see owners ‘bricking’ their cars when trading them in - much like when a smartphone is formatted and sold on. 

While modern technology in motoring may be capable of bringing us an unprecedented level of choice, judging by the way it’s being utilised by manufacturers, it appears that the freedom of choice will come at a cost. 

Header Image Credit: Unsplash


Dmytro Spilka

Dmytro Spilka

I'm a tech and auto writer based in London. Founder of Solvid and Pridicto. My work has been featured in TechRadar, Entrepreneur, The Next Web, and Huff Post.

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