With heated seat subscriptions, I think BMW has gone completely rental

Someone somewhere is thinking about Uber-style surge pricing for essential in-car features

BMW iX
(Image credit: BMW)

Remember BMW's wildly unpopular plan to charge $80 a year to enable Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in its cars? It's at it again, but this time it's coming for your buttocks.

According to Jalopnik (opens in new tab), BMW is trying to bring back subscription features to its cars – so if you want to have heated seats you'll need to sign up for a seat subscription. That's $18 a month or $406 for lifetime access.

That's not all. In South Korea, where BMW is trying this transport tomfoolery, you can have a heated steering wheel for $10 a month; CarPlay for a one-off $304 and high-beam assist headlights for $8 a month.

BMW hasn't announced any formal plans to bring this terrible idea to the UK, US or Europe, but if the South Korean experiment is successful then it's clearly a case of when, not if. And while I understand the thinking I think it's a horrible glimpse of a worrying future.

Stop with the subs already

I'm not against subscriptions; I have tons of the damned things, and most of them are good. But moving cars to a subscription model where you pay a huge amount of money for the car and then more money to enable features in software seems like a very consumer-unfriendly plan. The thinking behind it is obvious – as the world moves to EVs, car makers won't be making money from servicing and repairing the oily bits any more; this is a great way to develop a new revenue stream – but it's trying to ignore an important point here: BMW is pretending that cars are software, not hardware.

This isn't like buying a power-up in a video game or subscribing to an app so it's always being updated. What BMW is trying here to charge you twice for the same hardware: once to buy it, and then again to unlock it. Selling you the same thing twice is a wonderful idea if you're a car company but it's not so great if you're an ordinary driver already living in the middle of a cost of living crisis.

The car blogs are unanimous: this is a terrible idea that car companies are going to try really hard to push. It's easy to joke about charging a subscription for turn signals and other crucial features, but someone somewhere is thinking about enabling Uber-style surge pricing for aircon during heatwaves.

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written thirteen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote another seven books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com (opens in new tab)).