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New Jersey Legislators Aim To Ban Most In-Car Subscriptions

New Jersey officials aren't amused by automakers' attempts to charge for the use of pre-installed hardware in cars, such as heated seats.

Subscriptions for in-car services: Nobody seems to want them—besides automakers, of course. Paying a subscription for things like heated seats or remote start is something most people aren’t enthusiastic about. Luckily for them, neither are lawmakers in New Jersey. Two state legislators are proposing a bill that would ban car companies from “[offering consumers] a subscription service for any motor vehicle feature” that “utilizes components and hardware already installed on the motor vehicle at the time of purchase.” Yes, that would include a pre-installed heating element in a seat. In fact, that’s explicitly mentioned.

The bill has one stipulation, however. The subscription would only be unlawful if there was no “ongoing expense to the dealer, manufacturer, or any third-party service provider.” In other words, if an automaker or other associated party can prove that it costs money to maintain the feature and/or service in question, then it’d be legally allowed. This would include services like OnStar and such.

The way “ongoing expense” is interpreted is going to be key here, assuming the bill makes it into law. This, obviously, is not guaranteed. In theory, a car company could claim that over-the-air updates and their associated data costs constitute an ongoing expense. That means anything to do with connected features could theoretically be charged for. Since a car needs an internet connection in order to purchase subscriptions, well, that might make this particular piece of legislation worthless. On the other hand, if the core value of the subscription is derived from the pre-installed hardware as opposed to the data connection itself, then there is probably a case to be made.

Besides heated seats, the bill also mentions “driver assistance.” That could be a problem for systems like Tesla’s autopilot or General Motors’ Super Cruise, both of which are going to a subscription model. Both of these systems cost money to maintain, though, especially Super Cruise. The system requires enabled highways to be scanned with Lidar. Tesla’s AutoPilot and “Full Self-Driving” are also actively updated and maintained, which costs money.

Peter Holderith

According to the law firm Ballard Spahr, “the bill would significantly impact the ability of automakers to offer consumers the choice of purchasing additional convenience features through a subscription model.” Likewise, civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation could apply. It’s unclear whether that would mean per subscription or per vehicle. Per vehicle seems more likely.

Whether or not this legislation makes it into law, it’s good to see people in power finally pushing back on something many consumers desperately do not want. If there’s functional hardware that comes with your car, you shouldn’t have to pay extra to use it.

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