Will Auto Manufacturers Start Charging Monthly for Features Already In Your Car?

Some cars some standard with Andriod Auto and Apple CarPlay but BMW may have set a precedent for the future by charging for them.

Courtesy bmwusa.com

To tell you the truth, I never thought it would come to this. Since I heard that BMW would start charging their customers $80 a year to use Apple CarPlay in their cars, I actually lost it for a second. I just kept thinking why the hell should I pay for a feature that my car has, but it is locked out to me until I subscribe to it. I thought, What! It made no sense to me. This is my bias though and me being the person I am, I wanted to explore this a little more.

I want to change my view and see this from the manufacturers’ perspective and try to understand what they must be thinking. I want to explore the possibilities and/or implications of what this could look like for the automotive market if we continue down this path. I have a lot of ideas behind this but I will try and break this post down as much as I can. But first let’s start with BMW.

What BMW has done

BMW has broken it down so that users can either pay $80 a year to use Apple CarPlay or pay $300 for 20 years. I feel they broke it up like this for user flexibility. Users can either opt to use it on an annual basis, then simply cancel when they don’t want it anymore. Even without Apple CarPlay, your Bluetooth functions will continue to work as before. For instance, you will still be able to stream music to your car, along with making and receiving phone calls. In offering a subscription like plan, this created an area where you can decide if you want to stick with the built-in functions of the car (your car can still play music, help you answer calls and show you route guidance with built-in apps), or if you want a truly seamless experience between your personal device and your car. It’s about adding a level of convenience.

Nowadays, whenever someone or a company starts charging for convenience, no one really cares as it may be worth the price over dealing with the status quo. For example, you may pay for an Evernote subscription because it enables you to edit your notes across your devices, even though Apple Notes comes stock in the phone. I believe this is the same philosophy BMW went with. You can use the BMW stuff or if you want that cross platform experience, they make you pay. What is it then about the car having a feature and the company making you pay extra to access it? Is it the fact that we are restricted to something we know is available in the car? Do we think this is a cash grab on the auto manufactures part? Or is this some type of competitive move to keep themselves ahead of the game?

Lets use an example

The automotive game keeps changing and brands have to fight to keep themselves relevant. I’ve mentioned this many times before, but I think with moves like charging to use Apple Carplay, we are just now dipping our toes into a new era. An era where we could continue to see “convenience” based charges in the automotive world. Let me expand this out a little bit. But first a more easily relatable example.

Imagine you have your smart phone with you, and you want to access Netflix. Everyone knows you have to pay for Netflix cause it’s not something already on your phone. The phone becomes the medium to access this content. Hence why you pay to access Netflix separately than what you pay to buy, or lease, your phone. Normally you keep your phone for a while, but you can sign up and cancel Netflix as many times as you want. You only keep the subscription around when you know Netflix has a show you want to watch. Pretty simple to understand right. Now let’s use this same example to look at a potential route for the automotive market.

How this could change the landscape

Let’s say you buy a BMW 5 series. There are only 2 versions of this car in this example: a BMW 5 and a BMW 5 Pro, rather than all the sub models available today (i.e. the 530, 540, 550 and the M5). The BMW 5 is the standard model and the BMW 5 Pro is the upgraded model with more power, sharper design, etc. The BMW 5 is considered our medium just like the iPhone is, but we can start subscribing to things in the car that we want it to do. Let's say you get a BMW 5 Pro. It will drive and act like a normal car, except the car is already loaded with all the features the automaker can throw into the car. One day you decide you want to take a long drive to the hills and have fun with the family along the journey. You get on your phone and order the Auto Pilot feature for the month. The car activates that feature instantly and you load up the car the same day and head out.

The car drives you all the way to your destination using its on board self-driving feature. When you reach your destination, you realize there’s a racetrack there as well! You get super excited, get back on your phone and order the performance pack for a few days of track fun. Again, once you order the performance pack, the car instantly unlocks the feature. You now have the full power of the engine, increased throttle response, sharpened suspension and steering components and the electronic speed limiter is released. You smash the car around the track for a few days of endless testosterone filled fun. Now that your 3-day performance upgrade has run its course, the package expires and reduces the car down to its normal settings. The car then comfortably drives you and your family back to your home using its self-driving feature. Eventually you decide you no longer need the Auto Pilot and cancel your subscription. You go back to using the car the way you normally do.

What do you think about this scenario? Interesting right?

Other questions that arise

I’m not saying this is what car manufacturers will do, all I’m saying it is something that is could be a possible outcome. It’s interesting to see how this area will grow. Will automakers expand with this and make tech features an option that an user will pay for, or will they make us subscribe to performance upgrades as well? There are other questions that arise also. Will car prices fall since technically we are not paying for the features we won’t be using? As these features will require a subscription after the fact, will there be a black market where hackers could just break into the cars’ computer and unlock all its features without paying for it?

These are hard questions to answer but all this could pose a potential upside for customers too. It could allow customers to use specific features of the car they want to use, when they want to and avoid the features they don’t really care about (say performance-based upgrades for those who really don’t care for that sort of thing). All we can do is wait and watch but let me know what you guys think about this. Is this something you could get on board with or do you think this is a bit much?