BMW Is Planning to Sell Heated Seats and More as a Subscription (No, Really)

Do you really own anything if you have to pay a subscription for things like remote start or auto high-beams?

AGNIESZKA-DOROSZEWICZ—AgnieszkaDoroszewicz

BMW gave a glimpse of its newest in-car operating system on Wednesday, expanding on last week's announcement of its partnership with Apple for a digital key service that's supposed to revolutionize Apple CarPlay. In addition, the automaker went a bit more in-depth about what the future holds for its tech-heavy vehicles.

The important takeaway here is that over-the-air updates and features will play a big role in BMW ownership, but more importantly, that users will have to pay for features already installed in their cars, such as heated seats, infotainment features, etc. Yes, you read that right.

We hate to break it to you, but you're not having a bad case of deja vu—this isn't the same announcement about BMW's controversial decision to charge drivers an $80 annual fee to use Apple CarPlay (which it has since walked back).

According to BMW, this means you could theoretically pay to activate those heated seats and steering wheel originally installed in your car, or perhaps even flick on the car's automatic high-beams. If you fancy a new engine sound, you can also buy a new note through BMW's IconicSounds catalog—no wrenching required. Even advanced safety features like Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) aren't safe from the hands of the subscription service.

But hey, some good news: you can get a trial period for many of those items! It appears that while some features may be subscription-based, others may be permitted to buy as a one-time fee. So as long as you're willing to pony up the extra cash, BMW will activate the feature via an over-the-air software update initiated from within the car or the new My BMW mobile app.

To get a sense of why BMW might be doing this, we have to revisit the launch of the BMW 4 Series. Specifically, the notion that Adaptive Cruise Control is an optional feature on a premium car that starts above $45,000.

During a chat with Andreas Ederer, the head of 4 Series project team, and Jos Van As, the head of 4 Series dynamic team, they told The Drive that one of the reasons that adaptive cruise control isn't standard on many current BMW vehicles is due to the take rate. In fact, it was revealed that less than 25 percent of customers choose to purchase ACC, citing the large gap left between cars while on the road—mainly that drivers didn't want other motorists using the opening to cut ahead in heavy traffic.

In the future, from the looks of it, features like ACC will already be installed, and owners could potentially decide to upgrade after leaving the lot, sometime down the road—which is great for BMW. For consumers, however, we can't help but feel that this cash-grab is rather slimy.