Imagine buying a fancy new car that costs as much as your parents’ first house and being told by the dealer that you’ll have to pay the automaker $18 a month if you want to use the seat heaters that are already installed in the car.
Preposterous? BMW didn’t think so last year, when it began such a subscription service in markets outside the U.S. But American pundits savaged the idea, and BMW followed up with a statement promising that heated seats would be subscription-free in the States—for now.
Such schemes are possible because today’s cars can send and receive data over the internet to manipulate the cars’ software. A few bucks in subscription fees for the car owner can add up to real money for the automaker. Mercedes-Benz earned more than $1 billion in software-based subscription fees in 2022. General Motors expects software services to generate up to $25 billion annually for the company by 2030.