75 Percent of Car Buyers Don’t Want Features Locked Behind Subscriptions

Drivers don't care to have their pockets picked for heated seats every month.
2022 Toyota Tundra

We’ve reached that stage of capitalism where companies have figured out they can make more money not by selling you features, but by locking them behind paywalls and collecting rent. Early attempts to switch one-time purchases to subscription models haven’t caught on, though, and don’t appear likely to gain traction, as a new study by Cox Automotive has found.

After surveying 217 people who will buy a car within the next two years, Cox concluded that 75 percent of consumers are completely unwilling to pay monthly or annual fees for features historically included as standard or as options. Only half were aware that car companies are trying to work subscriptions into their business models, and only a fifth had actually tried some form of automotive subscription—less than half of those who had the option.

The vast majority agreed that basic comfort and convenience features—specifically heated and ventilated seats and remote start—should be available as one-time purchases, at 92 and 89 percent respectively. If you’ll recall, both features have been the subject of attempts to lock behind subscriptions by automakers; Toyota tried with remote start, and BMW with heated seats. Both were met with pushback, which eventually led to Toyota (at least publicly) reconsidering the scheme.

Some modern safety features are also widely expected to be included upfront, like lane assist, which 89 percent of buyers expect, and automatic emergency braking, at 87 percent. Other miscellaneous functions, such as wifi hotspots and stolen vehicle tracking, were also expected by the majority to be one-time buys, but no percentages were given.

Of course, the 75 unwilling percent leave 25 percent that are willing to subscribe for basic features, even elemental safety technologies, with 20 percent of respondents accepting a fee of up to $35 a month for them. An unspecified proportion would also swallow up to $25 monthly for features like over-the-air performance upgrades, stolen vehicle tracking, and online service records. Only a tiny proportion, though, would pay monthly for enhanced range in an electric vehicle—under 10 percent of respondents.

Cox’s takeaway was that the most-wanted features are best included in packages at time of purchase as opposed to subscriptions, so as not to repel customers. People just aren’t willing to pay on a constant basis for what used to be one-time purchases. Car companies’ best chance to implement subscriptions, it would seem, are for new features that people haven’t been able to pay for upfront. At the same time, those that try to force subscription models can expect to be named, shamed, and made an example of. I’ll do it with BMW and Toyota as long as I have to, and I’ll add to that list if I need.

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