We were recently playing in the menus of a 2023 BMW X1 when we came across a group of screens offering exactly that sort of subscription. BMW TeleService and Remote Software Upgrade showed a message that read Activated, while BMW Drive Recorder had options to subscribe for one month, one year, three years, or “Unlimited.” Reactions from the Car and Driver staff were swift and emotional. One staff member responded to the menus with a vomiting emoji, while another likened the concept to a video-game battle pass.
We reached out to BMW to ask about the menus we found and to learn more about its plan for future subscriptions. The company replied that it doesn’t post a comprehensive list of prices online because of variability in what each car can receive. “Upgrade availability depends on factors such as model year, equipment level, and software version, so this keeps things more digestible for consumers,” explained one BMW representative.
Our X1 for example, has an optional $25-per-year charge for traffic camera alerts, but that option isn’t available to cars without BMW Live Cockpit. Instead of listing all the available options online, owners can see which subscriptions are available for their car either in the menus of the vehicle itself or from a companion app.
BMW USA may not want to confuse its customers by listing all its options in one place, but BMW Australia has no such reservations. In the land down under, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel are available in a month-to-month format, as is BMW’s parking assistant technology. In contrast, BMW USA released a statement in July saying that if a U.S.-market vehicle is ordered with heated seats from the factory, that option will remain functional throughout the life of the vehicle.
In 2019, BMW announced it would charge customers $80 per year for wireless Apple CarPlay. After considerable public backlash, BMW walked back the decision and instead offered the technology for free. BMW is wading into mostly uncharted waters here. The court of public opinion forced BMW to reverse a subscription in the past. If people decide these newer subscriptions are as egregious as the old ones, will they force BMW back again? Or will they instead stick to automakers who sell features outright?
Source: We Found Subscription Menus in Our BMW Test Car. Is That Bad?
If the hardware is there, then you bought it and should be allowed to have it. If it’s externally processed data (eg an updated database of streets and traffic cameras) then a subscription is fine.