Tips, Tricks & Trends

BMW Wants to Make Heated Seats a Subscription Service

Heated seats used to be features limited only to high-end luxury cars. But now, the technology has spread to more affordable models and even motorcycles. As have other features, including infotainment such as Apple CarPlay. And typically, when you check the box for an option or accessory, it’s yours for however long you own the car. However, BMW may make it so, even if you have heated seats, you’ll need a subscription to turn them on.

The BMW heated seat news

BMW's infotainment screen showing Android Auto functionality
BMW infotainment with Android Auto | BMW

This news comes as part of a larger announcement BMW made regarding its infotainment, Car and Driver reports. As part of an extensive over-the-air update, BMW is finally adding Android Auto to its cars, as well as Apple CarKey to a few select models. The navigation is also getting an upgrade, as is BMW’s voice-activated digital assistant. However, that’s not all that BMW revealed.

During the presentation, BMW also announced that it plans on turning certain features into software services, Roadshow reports. That includes driver-assistance features like adaptive cruise control and more comfort-oriented features like heated seats. The heated seat components would still be installed, Autoblog explains, they just wouldn’t work unless you paid a subscription fee.

Has BMW not learned from its Apple CarPlay fiasco?

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BMW has attempted to do something like this before. For a brief period, BMW buyers had to pay a subscription fee to use Apple CarPlay. But understandable customer backlash prompted the German automaker to cancel that initiative. So why is BMW trying this again?

Interior shot of the 2021 BMW 5-Series, showing tan leather seats
2021 BMW 5-Series interior | BMW

It’s possible that the company is doing this to benefit its leasing customers. Usually, leases are measured in months, rather than years, with customers focusing on low monthly payments. Making heated seats into a subscription service could lower the initial option cost, which would lower the average monthly payment. And if, for instance, you only need heated seats during the winter, you only need to pay extra during that time.

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However, that still means you could pay over $50,000 for a luxury sedan that only has heated seats part of the time. Yes, many OEMs offer trial access to something like satellite radio. But even after the trial ends, the audio system itself still works. You’re not left with some complicated electronics that just take up space.

It’s also possible, Roadshow muses, that BMW’s trying to offer more customization with this approach. Instead of bundling options into packages, just build every car with them, but charge for access.

And that’s something which may ring familiar.

Have other automakers tried similar tactics?

BMW isn’t the only luxury automaker that’s proposed similar tactics. Tesla has been repeatedly criticized for removing Autopilot functions from used models. Most of its EVs already feature the hardware required to run the Autopilot driver-assistance suite. Tesla, though, charges for the software and access—admittedly, it’s a one-time fee.

It’s unclear, as of this writing, how BMW will handle these subscription services in used cars. Additionally, the company hasn’t revealed when this program would be rolled out, or which features could be included. In the meantime, we’ll have to see how consumers react.

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