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BMW jumps into microtransactions: Begins selling heated seat subscriptions in South Korea

July 12, 2022, 2:44 PM UTC
Workers in a BMW factory
Workers assemble BMW I8 hybrid cars on the assembly line at the BMW factory on May 20, 2019 in Leipzig, Germany.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

BMW, which has been evangelizing microtransactions in the automotive space for over four years, is giving it another go.

The automaker has launched a number of subscription-based services for drivers in South Korea on features that are fairly common in U.S. vehicles.

Heated seats, for example, run for $18 per month. A heated steering wheel will cost $10 per month. And high-beam-assist headlights, a driver safety feature, come with an $8 per month charge. In all of these examples, discounts are available with multi-year commitments and the feature can be purchased with permanent access.

The features are activated (and deactivated) via an over-the-air software update between the vehicle and a BMW app. The company says the pay-per-feature decision was made because the majority of drivers opted against purchasing these options and it didn’t want to charge customers for things they didn’t use.

Upgrades bring a new revenue source to automakers, but buyers have strongly resisted them. BMW, in 2018, attempted to make Apple CarPlay into a subscription service (with an $80 per year price tag), but reversed course after buyers pushed back.

That hasn’t changed. An April study from Cox Automotive found that three-quarters of consumers said they were not willing to pay an annual or monthly subscription fee for most items on their new vehicle.

“Safety and comfort features should be part of the purchase price, they said overwhelmingly,” the study reports. “Specifically, 92% said heated and cooling seats should be part of the purchase price; 89% said remote start should be as well. Both items have been discussed by some automakers as subscription features. As for safety features, the response was almost as overwhelming; 89% said lane-keeping assist should be part of the price and 87% said automatic emergency braking should be too.”

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