Automakers are increasingly obsessed with turning everything into a subscription service in a bid to boost quarterly returns. We’ve noted how BMW has embraced making heated seats and other features already in your car a subscription service, and Mercedes has been making better gas and EV engine performance something you have to pay extra for — even if your existing engine already technically supports it.
There are several problems here. One, most of the tech they want to charge a recurring fee to use is already embedded in the car you own. And its cost is already rolled into the retail cost you’ve paid. They’re effectively disabling technology you already own, then charging you a recurring additional monthly fee just to re-enable it. It’s a Cory Doctorow nightmare dressed up as innovation.
The other problem: absolutely nobody wants this shit. Surveys have already shown how consumers widely despise paying their car maker a subscription fee for pretty much anything, whether that’s an in-car 5G hotspot or movie rentals via your car’s screen. Now another new study indicates that consumers are unsurprisingly opposed to this new effort to expand subscription features:
A new study from Cox Automotive this week found that 75% of respondents agreed with the statement that “features on demand will allow automakers to make more money.” And 69% of respondents said that if certain features were available only via subscription for a particular brand, they would likely shop elsewhere.
if the industry does this persistently enough, over a long enough time frame, the window of what dictates “acceptable” automaker behavior shifts in their favor, resulting in opinions like this one:
“I don’t think [features on demand] is going away, and also as the cars get more and more sophisticated, get more and more functionality, then it just feels like a natural progression,” Edmund’s Weaver says, also noting he too has gotten used to these add-on features, and their costs, for his personal vehicle.
There’s a whole bunch of additional unintentional consequences of this kind of shift. Right to repair folks will be keen on breaking down these phony barriers, and automakers will increasingly respond by doing things like making enabling tech you already own and paid for a warranty violation.
It’s not just BMW, Mercedes and many other companies are getting into this game. The thing is, if it’s a service that requires ongoing work (eg collecting road data for navigation services or traffic cam data for speed warnings etc) then a subscription is fine. But if it’s something already built into your car that requires a subscription or extra money to enable, well, then you’ve already paid for it and are the owner of it. Having a carmaker disable it until you pony up again for it is a ridiculous.
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