BMW’s Push To Make Heated Seats A $18 Per Month Subscription Portends A Dumb And Costly Future

from the pay-extra-for-seatbelts dept

If you’re a publicly traded company, it’s not enough to make a decent profit selling products people like. You have to deliver endless quarter over quarter improvements to please investors. So countless companies engage in an act of self-cannibalization, where they begin to cut back on things like customer service (see: U.S. telecom), or annoy their customers with obnoxious cash grabs.

Case in point: companies like BMW just really can’t give up their dream of turning everyday, basic features, into subscription services. Service fees they can, consistently and mysteriously, nudge ever skyward. In several countries, that has taken the form of charging customers upwards of $18 per month just to enjoy heated seats they technically already own:

As cynical as that might sound, Korean owners aren’t forced to pay monthly for heated seats, or any of BMW’s other available options, but monthly payments can be made to try those out. Heated seats, for instance, cost ₩24,000 (roughly $18) per month. But you can also pay for a year subscription ($176), a three-year subscription ($283), or you can buy the heated seats permanently ($406).

The heated seat subscription option is part of the company’s “Connected Drive” program, and is already reality in Korea, the UK, New Zealand, Germany, and South Africa. It hasn’t come to the U.S. yet, but it’s fairly obvious that it’s likely to, eventually.

In this case, the technological capacity for heated seats already exists in the car. The manufacturer has already factored these costs into the base price. And they’re effectively charging you a premium simply to turn on technology that already exists and, frankly, you’ve probably already paid for:

That opens the door to an arms race with hackers and modders, with the right to repair (something you already own) debate waiting in the periphery. And the FTC watching you like a hawk, waiting to see if companies make enabling something you already own a warranty violation.

As cars get smarter and more complicated, the potential for nickel-and-diming your customers for services that should come as part of standard packages will only increase. If done reasonably, the company would really only be shifting the costs from one premium package to a subscription service.

But the need for quarter over quarter returns means they’re incentivized to never stop pushing their luck. So what you wind up getting is dumber and more annoying price gouging until either regulators or consumers say they’ve had enough. And even then, Wall Street still usually gets what Wall Street wants.

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Companies: bmw

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Comments on “BMW’s Push To Make Heated Seats A $18 Per Month Subscription Portends A Dumb And Costly Future”

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OGquaker says:

Re: Re: Re: my landlord doesn’t charge me anything for turning the radiators on.

Really? Lucky you. “Laws” (Code) requires hook-up to the Municipal-Owned utilities here*, “profits” from forcing the purchases of City-Corporation utilities (killing homeowner’s PV solar & recycling: the City “owns” your trash**) are dumped into the City’s “general fund”. In this Country, the “State” owns every square inch, Magna Carta be dammed, people have no access once the “in-Corporation” legal construct took away the “Commons” from the King’s kidnappers***. Other than borrowing this land plot, the City-Corporation owns all of it’s housing stock, “ownership” is a delusion: if the “owner” doesn’t “upkeep” the stock, or modifies the building, or lowers real-estate value with poor cosmetics, $Fines (“debts” the City re-sells to “collectors” within weeks) accumulate within two months, red-taging the front door and ending occupancy. Investors than have 33 months to complete their bulldosing of the home you “bought”.

*Just house electricity is 14% of my monthly income, no AC, No heat, no back door:)
**I once watched an LAPD black-and-white u-turn to ticket a man removing tin-cans from the $18/month city-rented trash pickup container. Gore Vidal waited seven years for the LADWP to hook up his $35,000 PV system
***A second mortgage, real or imagined, can take your house away in California in 90 days since 1994, without even a Notarized signature since 2008.

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re: Re:2

What are you talking about, ‘lucky’? Just because your lawmakers don’t give a shit about their citizens, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take it for granted that turning a valve doesn’t cost me anything above the rental of my flat and the cost of the gas that fuels the boiler. Don’t have a go at me, bombard your local Congress critters.

OGquaker says:

Re: Re: Re:3 pat your dander down

Yours was my opening gambit to structure an argument that Americans live day to day, paying for every one of life’s privileges’ anew each month. Whole decades of instructional videos about those mentally ill “hoarders” that squirrel away things instead of shopping for new, drinking out of two decade old cups, not buying fresh Solo® disposables* therefore crippling the economy.

  • stuff all that expensive packaging back through the drive-up window before yo leve.
    At one point, LA City began the process of building a small electric-generating package & single-use container recyclizing incinerator in dozens of neighborhoods to avoid the blowback

Me & the Wife got a brand-new PU-truck donated for a few months and dumpster-dived 10,000 dollars in bread over the course the occupation, feeding protesters. Judge Helen I. Bendix was on parade in her robes, stupidest shit i ever saw in our downtown courthouse.

Ghost says:

'Right to repair' to the rescue!

The fact that a ‘feature’ is not enabled in a device (although all the components are present) is something I first met in the form of Teletext in the ’80s. Television sets came in 2 ‘flavours’: with or without teletext. The actual difference was most often the presence or absence of a small jumper on a pcb somewhere on the inside of the set. If you knew which one (and were not afraid to void your warranty), you could enable the service yourself at no extra cost.

Of course, reason for this is that the device manufacturers just have to design and build 1 single set that is only configured differently, so the actual cost of “adding” teletext was negligable (and often done by a technician in the shop where you bought your set).

Flash forward a couple decades, and the always-connected devices of today have heaps of possibilities for the same tactic. And more so because there is not even the need for a hardware intervention to enable these features!

The only way to combat these tactics is to lobby and vote for stronger right to repair laws. These would re-legitimize tinkering with the hardware you bought, reducing the manufacturer’s options to lock us out of our own devices.

Ninja (profile) says:

I read somewhere earlier that this is some sort of fake news that got traction in mainstream media for some reason now I’m kinda confused. The thing is, it’s absurd but I can totally see this happening so I can’t really say if it’s true. Since Karl is reporting on it I’m much more inclined to believe it’s true because I trust TD reporting but even then TD is made of humans and they can err as well, I’m not the only one that has a very serious trust problem with information and truth. I wanted to leave this here as food for thought. We have a very serious trust issue. And it’s getting worse.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:


So, not BMW’s first attempt at putting functionality behind a subscription paywall. $80 for Apple CarPlay anyone?

In fact, while the linked reporting highlights south korea, the UK BMW website has heated seats on offer as a subscription upcharge.

Someone might have claimed fake news because it wasn’t on offer in the US, or maybe that it was only in the ‘backwards’ south korea, not a ‘real country’. That seems about the speed of the types of people who use the term fake news.

Ninja (profile) says:

In a comment related to the subject, if I paid for the hardware installed and I’m very sure they are charging for it and not relying on possible future subscription money that may or may not come and may take several months to recover the cost of the installed hardware. If they are charging for it then it has to work whenever I want. Specially because I will want to turn off any external connection possibility other than alarm on/off so the feature would not be able to be turned on/off remotely. If there’s no way to remove external connection then I don’t want the car itself. If there’s no model that comes with everything installed and enabled by default and connection optional then I don’t want BMW cars regardless of how good and secure they are.

wshuff (profile) says:

So if you’re having to pay a subscription fee to use hardware in your car, do you really own it? Or would that hardware still belong to BMW and you only have a license to use it if you pay for the subscription? And if that is the case and that hardware breaks, then that means BMW should foot the bill to fix its hardware, right? The customer wouldn’t be required to pay to fix parts that they don’t own and don’t have rights to use, right BMW?

That One Guy (profile) says:

'I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that... without paying.'

Nothing like the hardware already being installed and therefore already factored into the price you paid but being entirely useless unless you pay extra to ‘turn it on’ to show just how greedy companies can get and encourage people to look for ‘alternative’ ways to get the full use out of the property they theoretically bought and own.

BrokenSocialFilter says:

Re: Re:

Autopilot is a service that is continuously updated and improved upon which I think few would have issue with being available only as a subscription (at least, at this stage in the evolution of self-driving vehicles). However, Tesla does have something similar to BMW in this instance. Several years ago during hurricane season in Florida, Tesla benevolently (and very temporarily) upped the range of software-limited batteries to allow the shorter range purchasers to drive farther from the storm. So, effectively, while your Tesla battery has the capacity to last you 500 miles, you have to pay extra for that privilege…otherwise, your limit is 250 miles.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well, I don’t need heated seats year round so I just subscribe for the 3 months a year that I want them. That is $54 per year so compared to the $406 permanent price the break even time is 7.5 years.

As noted by another commenter, the Heated function is owned by BMW so they would be own any repair required.

The majority of BMW owners keep their cars less than 7.5 years so subscription might make sense other than the hassle of the subscription

nasch (profile) says:


As noted by another commenter, the Heated function is owned by BMW so they would be own any repair required.

You actually believe that? There is no way BMW is going to repair heated seats for free outside the warranty period, regardless of whether you subscribed to them or not.

The majority of BMW owners keep their cars less than 7.5 years so subscription might make sense other than the hassle of the subscription

I think for most people who object it’s not a matter of how much it costs, it’s the principle of the thing. If this goes over well, BMW will do it with more and more features, and then Mercedes will see all that sweet cash and start doing the same thing. Eventually it will be difficult to find a car that doesn’t require monthly fees to access all its features that you already paid for. Toyota already tried it and only backed down after public uproar. It’s only a matter of time before they try it again, and people like you who accept it just make it easier for that to happen.

Upstream (profile) says:

BMW copying Microsoft


“If there was a way we could force you into a monthly subscription for the driveway space your BMW parks on, we would.”

Also, isn’t disabling or charging for features that you bought and paid for essentially the same as theft, at least morally, if not legally? Just because it is done “with a computer” should not matter.

But the solution is simple: people can use their “dollar vote” and just not buy BMWs. I once heard that a marketing VP for BMW claimed to have repealed the law of supply and demand. He said that the more they raised their prices, the more cars they sold. This would be a good opportunity to prove him wrong.

Naughty Autie says:


And how long will it be before it’s sixth gear, or windscreen wipers, or eco-mode that’s a subscription service?

TBH, I hope BMW does that. They’d soon get a smackdown from regulatory authorities in the UK if they did because making eco mode inaccessible violatess environmental law and making windscreen wipers inaccessible breaks safety law.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:


Typical Techdirt hypocrisy.

How is criticizing a business for their business choices hypocrisy?

Techdirt has always stated that businesses can “do as they wish”, but that does not mean the businesses are immune from criticism.

Pull that stick out of your ass and realize that you are just being a low grade trollish asshole.

That One Guy (profile) says:


Ah, I do so love it when someone tries that faceplant of a ‘gotcha’ as it shows either a glaring lack of actually reading the articles and/or dishonesty in attacking an obvious strawman…

Just because a company can do something doesn’t mean they are immune from criticism for doing it, just like you have the right to smash your hand with a hammer but you’re still going to be called an idiot if you do so.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s almost as much of a fail as the time when Whatever/John Smith threatened to make an exact copy of Techdirt’s articles and somehow make millions off of ad revenue by literally copying the content of a website he hates and mocks for its supposed insignificance.

Corporate cocksuckers rarely think further than their flaccid genitalia.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

I see this as creating a market for third party vehicle control software. Manufacturers claim that you can’t modify software because it violates their copyright? Fine. Deletion doesn’t violate copyright. Remove the manufacturer’s software and replace it with a new operating system that doesn’t restrict vehicle function.

Drake says:

Will they cancel it later?

My 2016 BMW i3 can no longer talk to their network (3g only and they won’t sell a replacement modem).

If I buy this feature, will it stop working in the future?

I’m already not buying a BMW again after a not so old car is losing features, but this seems like a nightmare (unless one can code it on as easy as features can be added to my current car).

I’m more surprised though that BMW would be willing to sell a car without heated seats, and that they are commiting so firmly to not having hardware buttons (or do they have the buttons there and inactive).

Heated seats should be standard in the luxury and near luxury markets.

Drake says:

The buttons on my computer are hardware (the keyboard and power button), the icons on my computer are displayed.

Even on my phone where I touch the icons, there’s still a few buttons (power, vol up, vol down). I’m surprised that BMW is going for a button free interface on the type of thing that may want frequent (once or twice an hour) adjusting.

If they use hardware buttons on the car, that means the car would have a seat heater button that’s disabled? Like I push it and nothing happens, it just seems broken?

Alan says:

How is this nickel-and-diming?

I can definitely see your point if BMW offers no other option other than subscription, like Tesla’s autopilot. I can also see the controversy if BMW uses DMCA to enforce the technological restrictions against hardware you own.

But offering a subscription service as an alternative to something you otherwise have to buy doesn’t sound controversial to me.

Compare these 2 companies:

Company A:
– Car $20000
– Option: Heated seat +$400

Company B:
– Car $20000
– Option: Heated seat +$400, or $18 a month, or …

Company C:
– Car: $20400
– Heated seat included

How is Company B more nickel-and-diming than Companies A or C? You literally get more choice than Companies A or C.

When you subscribe to the heated seat, you didn’t pay for that heated seat. It shipped with the car for free waiting to be unlocked. It gives you the option to value the heated seat less than $400 but still makes use of it for a shorter period of time. Why would that be worse off for you?

Naughty Autie says:


Here’s what you don’t get: when you paid for the car, you paid for everything that’s physically in that car, including the heated seats. BMW using software to block your use of them until you pay a premium is like a landlord putting software on the boiler to block your use of it until you pay a premium so you can have hot water.

Alan says:

Re: Re:

I think it is you who don’t get it.

When I paid $20400 for the same, I am paying for the heated seat and getting one.
When I paid $20000 for a car, I know I am getting a car without heated seat.

But if I do get a heated seat, it’s a pleasant surprise. I can hot wire the seat. I can ship it to somewhere without DMCA and hack the software.

In no case I was mistakenly paying for a heated seat and not getting one. Instead I got many more options than before, other than buying heated seat versus not buying one. How am I worse off than BMW not offering this?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

There’s no way Company B is going to put heated seats in the car and NOT pass the cost of materials on to you in the hope that you might subscribe to activate the seats, so you’re paying for a heated seat but not actually getting one.

I can hot wire the seat. I can ship it to somewhere without DMCA and hack the software.

Which you shouldn’t have to do with something you own.

Alan says:

Re: Re:

Or in you ability, the rental agreement is explicit that it doesn’t have a free boiler, but does have a pay-per-use one. I knew this and accepted that I would either ignore that boiler, or I intend to use it only a few times, where the cost is still lower than buying a boiler myself.

I would not say this landlord is outrageous. They merely offered me an extra option.

I understand if your concern is the extra dead weight in the car, or space occupied by a boiler I won’t use, but you’re not saying that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

And here you double down on your blatant ignorance. To put it in other words: When you rent a house or apartment with a boiler, your rental includes the use of that boiler and you only have to pay extra for the propane that fuels the boiler. Similarly, when you buy a car that includes the physical structure for heated seats, the purchase price encompasses the cost of that physical structure and the only extra cost related to them should be for the fuel that runs the car, charging the battery that will power the heated seats. Get it yet, or are you happy to continue to wallow in your ignorance?

Alan says:

Re: Re: Re:2

Is it really an ignorance that I actually read the rental agreement for what I should expect to get in the rental unit?

I rented a home that does not promise to come with a boiler. The fact that it actually has a ”DRM-ed” boiler that I cannot just use it any purpose as if I rented a home with any regular boiler should not have surprised me in a bad way.

This is not as if I bought a Blu-ray Disc expecting I can extract the video into a laptop and throw away the disc but I couldn’t. I wasn’t expecting a working boiler to begin with.

If I need a boiler that I was never promised with, I pay for one, either from HomeDepot, or buy up the boiler that my landlord left in the home without my prior consent (but I keep it after the rental period), or rent the boiler month-by-month, or pay for a rental for use of the boiler in other terms your landlord wants (e.g. pay per use), or even use my hacker skills to fix that “broken” boiler that happens to be here. If your country has a law that disallowed the last option, I am sorry you need to call your lawmakers.

My landlord did not promise me a boiler and I didn’t feel right to blame them for not giving me a working one, or for giving me more options than 0 or 1. It’s their problem that they have a new business model as long as I get everything I agreed to pay for when I signed the contract.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3

Is it really an ignorance that I actually read the rental agreement for what I should expect to get in the rental unit?

You clearly didn’t or you would have seen the phrase “fixtures and fittings” somewhere in it. Those “fixtures and fittings” include the radiators, toilets, baths, showers, sinks, faucets, and the boiler. Now please stop doubling down on your ignorance with blatant lies.

AnonAuto says:

Sorry to zombie this.
I work in the car industry.

This practice is just a little less evil than you think, although I think the reaction of most commenters that find this galling is valid consumer sentiment.

I would add a few points.
-If you live in New Zealand how many months of the year do you actually need heated seat or heated steering wheel? For a savvy consumer that visits the snowfields once a year an on demand feature can be a better deal.
-From the perspective of the manufacturer they only make one hardware variation. Devil in the detail but for some products reducing hardware variations will reduce waste and development time.
-When the customer demands customization (and they do on a premium car) it doesn’t either take weeks to order a heated steering wheel to New Zealand, or require a local warehouse of possibly unused heated steering wheel modules. It can be turned on instantly.
-Many people can only buy cars on monthly finance, optional subscriptions can be conceived as an addition or discount on that monthly price. There is an argument that you got the car with the exact same premium hardware as the rich guy up the road, but you pay less per month than he does because you are a smart consumer only using the parts you need on demand.
-An ongoing relationship with the manufacturer increases the opportunity for a holistic lifecycle of the product where it is returned and recycled at the end of its life (And not just crushed up but taken apart and truly recycled using the original manufacturers knowledge). This is already good for subscription printer ink cartridges. It will become important for electric cars.

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