You may soon need to pay a monthly, daily, or even hourly subscription to access premium features on your car.
This subscription possibility is due to the digitisation of vehicles, which lets manufacturers add features and improve the performance of their cars through over-the-air software updates.
How it works
The concept of over-the-air, paid-for features is well know by Tesla drivers.
Owners of these vehicles have long been able to buy performance-enhancing software or pay to remove feature blockers.
However, the cars must have the necessary hardware pre-installed to offer customers these over-the-air unlocks.
This pre-installation of hardware increases the manufacturing cost, but helps streamline the production process – as there are fewer differentiations per car.
Tesla took this approach with the Model 3.
All Model 3 cars came equipped with long-range battery packs – with software limiting the available range for those who didn’t pay extra.
The Model 3 owners who didn’t initially opt for the long-range battery packs could then pay for an over-the-air update to unlock the entire capacity of the installed battery.
Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and VW have all said they will take this one step further by allowing consumers to purchase features on a monthly, or even hourly, subscription basis.
Case in point is Mercedes-Benz, whose new EQS in Germany will ship with the necessary technology for rear-wheel steering.
If not optioned on the car at purchase, the owner can pay for it to be enabled at a later date.
Rear-wheel steering will cost around R8,500 annually, while a three-year subscription is available for R15,000.
BMW previously offered a subscription service for Apple CarPlay, which required owners to pay a yearly fee of around R1,200 for this connection if the R4,500 option was not selected when buying the car.
This paid-for service received backlash from customers, as many automotive manufacturers offer this connectivity support for free – resulting in the removal of the subscription model.
However, BMW is adamant about using remote software updates, as it said in July 2020 that it was planning for additional features to be purchasable via its ConnectedDrive Store.
The company also said that owners will get a one-month free trial of a feature before they need to commit to a subscription plan.
Once in operation, these subscription programmes will allow the owner access to features such as heated seats, adaptive suspension, and adaptive cruise control.
VW will lease certain vehicle features to customers when they need them, as well as give owners the ability to unlock these abilities per hour of use.
This pricing will be based on “profit and cost modelling”, said Klaus Zellmer, VW’s sales and marketing head.
Zellmer gave an example of this, stating that customers could pay around R120 per hour for autonomous driving.
VW said the subscription service will be available from the second quarter of 2022 on cars underpinned by its MEB platform, which is currently used by the ID. 3 and ID.4
Having a subscription service for your car may sound like a way for companies to make more money, but it comes with many potential benefits.
The second-hand market will now have access to a level of customisation from the manufacturer that it has never had before.
This service also allows owners to purchase features they did not select when buying the vehicle new, or to pay for features only when they need them – such as heated seats in winter.
Although only four manufacturers were examined above, many more are considering implementing similar subscription-based features.