Mercedes raised some worried eyebrows with its recent announcement to offer additional power for its EVs via subscription. For electric EQE and EQS models, Mercedes will bump their horsepower if customers pay an additional $1,200 per year. However, that’s going to remain a U.S. market service only for the time being, as Europe currently won’t allow Mercedes to offer it, according to this report from Top Gear NL.
A spokesperson for Mercedes Netherlands told Top Gear NL that legal matters currently prevent Mercedes from offering a subscription-based power upgrade. However, the spokesperson declined to comment further, so it’s currently unknown what sort of laws block such subscription-based services. Especially when there are other subscription services that are available in Europe, such as BMW’s heated seat subscription. Automakers can also update a car’s horsepower, via free over-the-air service updates, as both Polestar and Tesla do so in Europe. But that comes at no extra cost and is a one-time, permanent upgrade. So there seems to be some sort of legal issue with charging a yearly subscription for horsepower.
In the U.S. market, Mercedes’ $1,200 yearly subscription gets EQE and EQS owners nearly a 100 horsepower gain. However, because it’s only software that unlocks the power, it’s obvious that the powertrain is capable of that much power regardless of subscription. So customers might feel cheated that they’re paying for a car with a powertrain that’s intentionally hamstrung from the factory, with its full potential hidden behind a paywall.
Let’s hope that this gets regulated properly at EU level – it’s bizarre that you can’t use something you paid for because it’s disabled and can be re-enabled remotely.
Intel and AMD did something like this in 2010 in a process called binning where they artificially disabled features in the hardware:
As Engadget rather calmly points out, Intel has been testing the waters with a new “Upgrade Card” system, which essentially involves buying a $50 scratch card with a code that unlocks features in your PC’s processor.
The guys at Hardware.info broke this story last month, although nobody seemed to notice right away—perhaps because their site’s in Dutch. The article shows how the upgrade key unlocks “an extra megabyte L3 cache and Hyper Threading” on the Pentium G6951. In its locked state, that 2.8GHz processor has two physical cores, two threads, and 3MB of L3 cache, just like the retail-boxed Pentium G6950.
Detractors of the scheme might point out that Intel is making customers pay for features already present in the CPU they purchased. That’s quite true. However, as the Engadget post notes, both Intel and AMD have been selling CPUs with bits and pieces artificially disabled for years. That practice is known as binning—sometimes, chipmakers use it to unload parts with malfunctioning components; other times, it’s more about product segmentation and demand. There have often been unofficial workarounds, too. These days, for example, quite a few AMD motherboards let you unlock cores in Athlon II X3 and Phenom II X2 processors. Intel simply seems to be offering an official workaround for its CPUs… and cashing in on it.
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