Tips, Tricks & Trends

Automakers Want to Charge You Monthly for Your Car’s Best Features

Cars as we know them have always come equipped with a set of pre-determined features. Depending on the trim level, you get exactly what you pay for upfront. However, automakers are now planning to implement car subscription plans, charging a monthly or yearly fee to activate some of your car’s best features. Like a music streaming service, choosing not to pay after buying could result in the loss of your car’s extras. According to Consumer Reports, Audi, BMW, Tesla, Cadillac, and Porsche have already begun rolling out these plans.

Subscription plans are off to a rough start

2021 BMW M440i xDrive front interior | BMW

According to Consumer Reports, the first subscription failure happened in 2019 with BMW. The German manufacturer attempted to charge an $80 yearly fee to use Apple CarPlay in some of its models. What struck the most outrage is that buyers had to pay $300 to equip the system in the first place. Since economy cars such as the Toyota Corolla equip the system as standard, the subscription plan didn’t exactly paint BMW in the best light. The result was that the German carmaker decided to abandon that subscription plan entirely.

It seems Cadillac is on track to commit a similar mistake, albeit over a longer period of time. The 2021 Cadillac Escalade allows buyers to pay $2,500 and get the brand’s driver assistance system called Super Cruise. However, looking at the fine print reveals that the system comes with a three-year free-trial. As a result, once the trial runs out, buyers will have to pay a $25 monthly subscription plan to keep the system online. According to MotorTrend, If buyers opt not to pay the extra subscription charge, the system will not be available to use. Keep in mind; this could happen after you’ve already paid $2,500 for it. The only saving grace is that systems such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist will remain regardless.

Additionally, and perhaps worst of all, these subscription plans don’t have a projected end date. As a result, buyers might find themselves paying for features long after their car is paid off.

Here’s what these subscriptions actually get right

2020 Porsche Taycan interior
2020 Porsche Taycan interior | Matthew Skwarczek

RELATED: BMW Wants to Make Heated Seats a Subscription Service

Before we get too down on subscription plans, they can actually be beneficial when they add features. Let’s take Tesla, for example. One of the best things about Tesla’s cars is their ability to update themselves over the air. Aside from normal updates, Tesla has allowed its customers to pay an additional fee and upgrade their cars even after they’ve purchased them.

In this instance, buyers can choose the exact car they want and add to it later. According to Consumer Reports, Tesla recently announced that it would offer these upgrades as a subscription plan. As a result, buyers can add and subtract extra features rather than lose standard ones.

Since these subscription plans are available largely for luxury vehicles, carmakers have also stated they will offer free-trials for features. This would give buyers an early sampling of optional extras with the option to upgrade later on.

You can subscribe to more than just optional features

The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is the Brand's largest and most luxurious SUV.
2021 Cadillac Escalade | Cadillac

If subscription plans are your thing, you can subscribe to more than just features. According to The Verge, Cadillac plans to implement a subscription plan that would allow buyers to switch between cars multiple times per year. This isn’t new, either. Cadillac attempted a similar system in 2018 called Book. In short, buyers would pay $500 upfront and $1,800 per month. For that fee, buyers could swap cars up to 18 times per year. This new version of the service will apparently incorporate dealers to be slightly cheaper and more widespread.

Thankfully, for now, Consumer Reports suggests that these subscription plans will remain in the realm of luxury cars, not affecting the most commonly purchased vehicles. However, if this model catches on, there is the possibility it may spread to lower price points.