VW's connected emergency service is free for 5 years after botched carjacking response

Police had to buy the service to track a stolen car with a child inside.

REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

Volkswagen is dealing with one of the risks of tying important car features to paid services. The brand is making its Car-Net connected emergency service free for five years for most 2020 to 2023 model year vehicles after a carjacking in the Chicago suburb of Libertyville. The thief stole a mother's Atlas SUV with her two-year-old son still inside, but police couldn't persuade a VW representative to reactivate Car-Net (a trial period had expired) and help track the car's location without paying $150. Deputies had already located the car and the child by the time a detective paid the fee.

The free Car-Net access will last for five years after sale or June 1st, 2023 (the effective date of the offer), whichever is later. It takes effect as soon as an owner creates a myVW account and accepts the relevant terms of service. Combustion engine models get automatic crash notices, emergency aid, stolen vehicle location and anti-theft alerts, while ID.4 buyers get the crash notification and emergency assistance features. The 2020 Passat sedan doesn't include Car-Net.

Customer experience Senior VP Rachel Zaluzec describes the response to the theft as a "process failure." VW is investigating what happened and will take actions to "make it right for the future," the executive adds.

The representative's response isn't necessarily typical of connected emergency services. GM's OnStar, for instance, explains that it will "immediately" contact police and start tracking a car's location in the event of a carjacking or kidnapping. In less urgent situations, OnStar will start tracking a stolen car when it verifies the owner's police report.

The incident comes as more automakers are moving car features to subscriptions, including previously one-time purchases like performance upgrades and heated seats. There's no mystery behind the strategy — this creates a steady stream of revenue that lasts long after a car reaches a customer. In the case of emergency services, however, it potentially complicates attempts to help owners who may be in life-threatening situations.