When BMW confirmed last year that it would charge its customers extra to unlock features already built into its cars, including £15-a-month to use heated seats, it sparked outrage among drivers.
Interestingly, only recently the Bavarian brand decided to backtrack on the idea, but one of its biggest German rivals says it still plans to ramp up the availability of ‘on demand’ features locked behind a paywall in its future models.
Audi’s head of technical development, Oliver Hoffmann, told Autocar that its next-generation models – including the popular A4 family saloon – will have more functions and features that owners can purchase on an ad-hoc basis.
Similar moves by Porsche and Skoda in recent months has triggered angry responses from some drivers who have lambasted car makers for trying to charge subscriptions for features already installed in the vehicles.
Audi’s Oliver Hoffmann says the brand’s next-generation cars – including the upcoming A4 family saloon – will have more features owners can purchase on an ad-hoc, subscription basis
Mr Hoffmann told the motoring title that Audi will shortly increase the availability of ‘function on demand’, saying buyers will ‘see year by year new functions in cars’ and the subscription-based model will soon become ‘quite normal’.
He claimed to Autocar that the decision to offer unlockable features is ‘in response to consumer demand’ rather than a push to squeeze bigger profit margins out of its existing customers – though motorists are likely to disagree with that sentiment.
Currently, Audi only offers unlockable features in its e-tron and e-tron Sportback EVs, which are available via the ‘myAudi’ app.
It includes access to an upgraded ‘LED matrix package’ to include auto main-beam functionality, ‘light function package’ that displays animations via the LEDs when locking and unlocking the car, and ‘park assistance’ to use of its semi-autonomous system that can find spaces and park itself.
Currently, Audi only offers unlockable features in its e-tron and e-tron Sportback EVs, which are available via the ‘myAudi’ app
Hoffmann (pictured) told Autocar that the decision to offer unlockable features is ‘in response to consumer demand’ rather than a push to squeeze bigger profit margins
These are available via three different subscription lengths at increasing prices: ‘try’ give you access for six months; ‘experience’ means the feature is available for up to four years; and ‘own’ allows you to purchase the feature outright.
Hoffmann was speaking to Autocar shortly after BMW confirmed it would stop charging extra to activate hardware-based functions on its cars.
Not only was it charging a monthly subscription for heated seats at £15, customers were told they could turn on the functionality of the heated steering wheel for £10 a month.
BMW sparked outrage last year when it told its customers they would need to pay a monthly subscription to add features to their car, despite the vehicle already being equipped with the technology
This screengrab of BMW UK’s Connected Drive section of its website last year shows the different purchase and subscription options available to have heated front seats
Want a heated steering wheel in your BMW for the winter only? The German brand was once charging £10 a month for the luxury
Speaking to Autocar in September, BMW’s board member for sales and marketing, Pieter Nota, said: ‘We actually are now focusing with those ‘functions on demand’ on software and service-related products, like driving assistance and parking assistance, which you can add later after purchasing the car, or for certain functions that require data transmission that customers are used to paying for in other areas.’
‘What we don’t do any more – and that is a very well-known example – is offer seat heating by this way. It’s either in or out. We offer it by the factory and you either have it or you don’t have it.’
He went on to admit that the decision to charge customers extra to access heated seats and faster internet connections in its expensive new models had backfired, saying ‘user acceptance isn’t that high’.
When the BMW story hit headlines last year, plenty of people took to social media to slam the idea.
Responding to the news on Twitter – now X – one user said: ‘BMW are seriously asking for monthly subscriptions for heated seats, heated steering wheels.
‘Components that already exist in your very expensive cars controlled by software #greedy Opportunistic.
‘What next? ‘We are sorry but your car not be driven on Sundays.”
Another added: ‘Though I have no need for heated seats, I would consider looking at other brands.
‘If a company is so greedy to charge for something like that it makes me wonder about the overall quality of their vehicles.’
However, not everyone is completely against the concept of paying for features on demand during specific months.
One user tweeted: ‘Sounds mad but on thinking about it, it could make sense.
‘If there is no extra initial cost to spec heated seats in the car then only paying for the winter months could make more sense.
‘You’d need to see the maths!’
Skoda has also recently caused uproar by confirming its new Kodiaq SUV will not have sat-nav fitted as standard and drivers who want the navigation feature will need pay extra to download it.
Mercedes and Porsche also offer similar on-demand subscriptions for driving assistance packages and wi-fi upgrades.