New Jersey legislators have proposed a bill to put an end to in-car subscription services. Premium features, such as heated seats, heated steering wheel, remote start, or driver assistance tech can currently be activated with a few presses and charged to your bank account directly through many cars’ infotainment screens.
When heated seats appeared on BMW’s Connected Drive service as a one-month, one-year or three-year subscription, the internet was in uproar. Yes, you could pay a one-off fee to have the service permanently, too, but the very existence of a subscription means every car is equipped with the hardware in the first place – drivers are just blocked from using it until they cough up.
It’s this controversial practice specifically that New Jersey lawmakers are looking to curb – they want to ban “subscription service[s] for any motor vehicle feature” that “utilizes components and hardware already installed on the motor vehicle at the time of purchase.” So, that means if a car comes with physical heaters in the seats and steering wheel, BMW (or any other car company) would not, in theory, be able to charge to use it.
There is one exception, though. If manufacturers can prove the service requires “ongoing expense to the dealer, manufacturer, or any third-party service provider”, then they can keep charging for it. That accounts for services like OnStar, which use real call centres manned by real employees who can contact emergency services, breakdown recovery, and offer advice when the driver requests it.
We wonder how brands might try to use this loophole to keep charging for features. Tesla’s Autopilot feature and General Motors’ Super Cruise are going to a subscription-based model, which they could argue requires ongoing expense. Roads need to be scanned and mapped with Lidar regularly to stay up-to-date in mapping software.
Unless BMW soon requires a man to physically come out to turn your heated seats on in person to prove an ongoing expense, we’re not sure how that subscription could slip through the cracks, at least.
If the legislation passes, automakers could be fined up to $20,000 per violation if they continue to charge for features already installed on a car. Judging by the internet’s reaction to BMW’s heated seat subscription, blocking people from using stuff they already have is pretty unpopular, so the bill could be a major step in taking back some of the power from car makers – do you think it’ll pass?