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BMW Is Giving Up on Heated Seat Subscriptions Because People Hated Them

The blowback worked—but subscriptions for software-based new car features will continue, according to a BMW board member.
BMW

Last year, BMW underwent media and customer hellfire over its decision to offer a monthly subscription for heated seats. While seat heating wasn’t the only option available for subscription, it was the one that seemed to infuriate everyone the most, since it concerned hardware already present in the car from the factory. After months of customers continuously expressing their displeasure with the plan, BMW has finally decided to abandon recurring charges for hardware-based functions.

“What we don’t do any more—and that is a very well-known example—is offer seat heating by [monthly subscriptions]” BMW marketing boss Pieter Nota said to Autocar. “It’s either in or out. We offer it by the factory and you either have it or you don’t have it.”

BMW’s move wasn’t solely about charging customers monthly for heated seats. Rather, the luxury automaker wanted to streamline production and reduce costs there by physically installing heated seats in every single car, since 90% of all BMWs are bought with seat heaters anyway. Then, owners who didn’t spec heated seats from the factory could digitally unlock them later with either a monthly subscription or a one-time perma-buy option. Nota still believes it was a good idea.

“We thought that we would provide an extra service to the customer by offering the chance to activate that later, but the user acceptance isn’t that high. People feel that they paid double, which was actually not true, but perception is reality, I always say. So that was the reason we stopped that,” Nota told Autocar.

That’s one perspective; another is that BMW was absolutely double dipping with heated seat subscriptions. The company started down that route to reduce production costs, making each car cheaper to build by streamlining the process. Fair enough. However, those reduced costs weren’t then passed down to buyers via lower MSRPs. Customers were technically paying for those heated seats anyway, no matter whether they wanted them. Then, BMW was not only charging extra to use a feature already installed in the car, but also subjecting it to subscription billing, even though seat heating is static hardware not designed to change or improve over time.

Customers weren’t happy, and rightfully made their grievance known. While it’s good that BMW ultimately buckled to the public’s wishes here, it doesn’t seem like the automaker’s board members truly understand why the outrage happened in the first place.

Going forward, BMW says it will continue to offer subscription-based services but only for software options, like driver assistance and digital assistant services, which is completely understandable. Customers will either pay monthly or once all up front to gain access to such capabilities. Thankfully, though, BMW seems finished with any hardware-based subscriptions, for now.

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