BMW wants to sell subscriptions to in-car features

Heated seats and adaptive cruise are some of the things that could become add-ons.

Roberto Baldwin / Engadget

In an expansion of its ConnectedDrive Store, BMW wants to give owners of its cars the option to access specific hardware and software features through a subscription (via Autoblog). BMW hasn't detailed exactly how the service will work, but the short version is that the automaker would offer select driver-assistance and comfort features in exchange for a reoccurring fee. All of the features the automaker wants to monetize would already be built into the car when you buy it, and you would pay for them through the company's ConnectedDrive Store.

The way BMW sees it, making some hardware and software components accessible in exchange for an optional fee gives its customers financial flexibility. Say you buy a model with heated seats. You could pay for that feature only during the cold months of the year. Similarly, if you later sell your BMW to someone, they can customize the car to include only the things they want.

Of course, the less charitable way to frame the entire idea is that BMW wants to make more money on its already expensive cars. Even one of its more affordable models will set you back about $36,000. It's probably safe to say that's a price at which most people don't want to pay a monthly fee for features their car already includes.

It's easy to see why a service like this would be appealing to an automaker. It will allow BMW to continue making money on cars that have entered the used market. Moreover, this isn't the first time the company has tried something like this. In 2019, BMW introduced an $80 per year fee for people to use Apple CarPlay in its cars. The company later scrapped the subscription after BMW owners complained about it.

The plan also fits into a broader trend of automakers trying to move beyond one-time purchases. Companies like Cadillac and Porsche have experimented with subscriptions that allow people to swap cars on demand. But BMW’s latest take on the model seems unsavory in a way those services did not.