BMW deems drivers worthy of warmth, ends heated car seat subscription

Any other monthly plans want to cancel themselves?

BMW has decided to stop charging car owners a subscription fee to use their heated car seats, though the German automaker remains committed to paid on-demand services.

The manufacturer began selling access to factory-installed heated seats and the heated steering wheel in 2020, though only in some markets, such as South Korea and the United Kingdom.

In South Korea, seat heat was available for the equivalent of about $18 per month, or $406 if purchased in perpetuity. In the UK, the price was about the same.

This was after the company said it would charge an $80 annual subscription fee to use Apple CarPlay in BMWs and subsequently reversed that decision following customer complaints.

"Our Connected Drive portfolio has always been dynamic, and we reserve the right to vary our offering structure according to the needs of individual markets around the world," said Jay Hanson, product and technology spokesperson for BMW USA, in an email to The Register.

"Heated seats and steering wheel were never available on a short-term subscription basis in the US market. They were strictly either standard equipment or factory options, depending on the model."

Hanson said that the BMW Connected Drive store currently lists various upgrades as subscriptions or one-time purchases. "It’s important to point out that with the exceptions of Traffic Camera Information and IconicSounds Sport, all are available ex-factory as well," he said. "They are not subscription-only."

Traffic Camera Information (Safety Camera Information in the UK) is a £25 per year subscription to a service that identifies traffic cameras, presumably to avoid having driving violations captured by the authorities. IconicSounds Sport, available for a one-time charge of £99, "plays BMW engine sound inside the vehicle."

Hanson added, "We will continue to refine the Connected Drive offerings to make the latest technologies available to our customers and meet the demand in the markets."

Indeed, connected services from automakers are expected to grow. One aspect of over-the-air updates is the potential cost savings from being able to perform software fixes without a factory recall.

In a paper published in 2020, "The Value of Connectivity in the Automotive Sector – A First Look," author Bowman Heiden, co-director of the Center for Intellectual Property in Gothenburg (CIP), Sweden and Visiting Scholar at Stanford's Hoover Institution, wrote that automakers see connected services as a strategic imperative and a driver of future revenue.

He wrote, "A review of the annual reports of leading automakers confirms that connectivity is considered one of the four critical megatrends facing the automotive industry together with autonomous driving, shared mobility, and electrification, where connectivity can be seen as both a separate and integrated value proposition to these other megatrends."

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Heiden says the trend began in 1996 with GM's OnStar service and expanded as cellular networking evolved in the 2000s.

In 2016, McKinsey Advanced Industries predicted that on-demand mobility and data-driven services could account for about $1.5 trillion by 2030, a potential 30 percent increase in automotive sector revenue. Data connectivity services could represent somewhere between $450-$750 billion annually by then.

Not every automaker has been able to make subscription services appealing to customers. While Tesla has achieved some notoriety for selling over-the-air updates to extend the range of its vehicles and for offering not-quite "Full Self-Driving" for $99-$199 per month, other companies like Ford and Cadillac have got rid of car subscription services. ®

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