BMW Is Readying Its Online Platforms for a Subscription-Based Automotive Future

BMW doesn’t want to miss out on additional revenue. It learned from Tesla’s successful venture into the world of downloadable content (DLC) disguised as software upgrades for its cars. Now, the Bavarians are going to apply a similar strategy. Here’s the deal.
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BMW customers may not be as technologically inclined or crazy about the newest tech as those who buy the latest Tesla and put up with all the software gimmicks and build quality issues. “The ultimate driving machine” is supposed to offer thrilling experiences behind the wheel, and in doing so, there’s no room for compromise. Ok, maybe there’s room for a couple of issues, but that’s it.

Tesla, however, proved something incredibly important for other market players – paying customers are willing to put up with all sorts of issues when they get a chance to be early adopters of a new trend. That may be why Mercedes-Benz is also going down this rabbit hole with its yearly subscription for acceleration increase in some of its EVs.

Now, after BMW confused many people with its idea to offer a subscription for heated seats, the company is moving forward with its plans to make buying upgrades online a lot easier. For example, the British will be able to access the BMW Connected Drive Section on the official website, and while logged in, they will be able to buy various new features – either for a couple of months or forever. Yes, it's an online shop that's similar to the one available in iDrive7- and iDrive8-equipped vehicles.

A brave new automotive world in the making

For example, the Drive Recorder functionality that uses the webcams to store footage of various events like a crash or a track day can be bought for £199 ($244) or trialed for free for one month. According to the marque’s online shop, the upgrade is available for an “unlimited” period “as long as the technical prerequisites are met for this vehicle.”

BMW Connected Drive Store
Photo: BMW UK
But while some upgrades like Adaptive M Suspension or Active Cruise Control with Stop&Go function can be obtained only for an unlimited period, others can very well be activated only for a couple of months.

Take the BMW Safety Camera Information as an example – it costs £25 ($31) per year. While it’s not specified, this is a subscription because the option to get it for an unlimited period isn’t there. And drivers might want this upgrade since it alerts them about fixed traffic cameras, which are more commonly known as speed traps.

Likewise, the Online Entertainment Voucher can either be trialed for free for one month, or customers can pay £179 ($219) per year for it. This option gives BMW buyers access to a music selection comprising over 30 million tracks. The automaker partnered with Deezer and Napster.

To put things better into perspective, a yearly subscription to Spotify is $99 (£81). At the time of writing, YouTube Music is also charging the same for a similar period.

Similarly, if you don’t intend on using Google Maps or Waze for free, then you can keep your BMW’s maps up to date with the Map Package that costs only £79 ($100) per year.

They can't and most likely won’t stop here

But the flexibility for subscription-based upgrades truly shows when you may want to use the heated seats in your car. This upgrade can be bought for one month (£15/$18), one year (£150/$184), three years (£250/$307), or forever (£350/$430). The same thing is available for the heated steering wheel option. The only differentiating factor is the slight price difference – it costs less to have a heated steering wheel.

BMW Connected Drive Store
Photo: BMW UK
The Connected Drive Stores is also available in the U.S. through the MyBMW online platform, but to access its offerings, you’ll have to set up an account with BMW.

With EVs slowly becoming mainstream, the push for subscription-based services and options will only grow. From a business point of view, this is understandable. EVs require less maintenance, use fewer parts, and automakers don’t have the same opportunity to make a lot of money off the many original replacements they offer for gas- or diesel-powered cars. Considering these items are available even after the vehicle is older than a teenager, there’s no denying that companies like BMW must find another revenue source.

Plus, we have to take into account how much it costs legacy automakers to fully electrify their portfolios. So much spending must lead somewhere, at some point. Shareholders need to see that carmakers won't become irrelevant or unattractive for investments as time goes by.

But the Bavarian automaker might enjoy some benefits like the streamlining of production. It'll make fully loaded cars and lock a couple of advanced features behind a paywall or a one-time payment upgrade. This has the potential to simplify the assembly process and make it faster.

While at first, this might also impact dealers because it takes some negotiating power away from them, it'll also help the middlemen everywhere have better cars to offer in their Certified Pre-Owned selection. It's considerably easier to sell a formerly leased, well-equipped vehicle with a couple of thousand miles on the odometer than to try and find an owner for a BMW that doesn't have many of the latest bells and whistles.

Customers might enjoy a little win as well since they'll be able to activate certain features like the heated steering wheel and seats only when it's convenient.

However, we were told that EVs will provide the much-needed answer for a cleaner environment without impacting the ownership experience too much. That’s not the case anymore. Companies are for-profit organizations, and they must make money. So, if they cannot pull it off by selling replacements, they’ll offer buyers software upgrades. Some may be pushed out into the world as free updates, while others will only be available in exchange for a monthly or yearly fee. We'll have to adapt.

Lastly, let’s not forget that the German automaker used to charge its customers $80 per year for Apple CarPlay back in 2019. However, it backpedaled after many buyers and fans of the brand became very vocal about it on various platforms and told dealerships about the issue. Now, it most likely won’t because it’s back and it costs £265 ($325).

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Editor's note: All prices were correct at the time of writing.

About the author: Florin Amariei
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Car shows on TV and his father's Fiat Tempra may have been Florin's early influences, but nowadays he favors different things, like the power of an F-150 Raptor. He'll never be able to ignore the shape of a Ferrari though, especially a yellow one.
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