In some countries where BMW sells cars, buying a model with, say, heated seats has become more complicated—if not more expensive. Heated front seats are a subscription service now, for which the consumer pays a Netflix-like $18 per month, the Verge reports. Other options are offered the same way, including automated traffic camera alerts and map updates, in a system that keeps the vehicle generating revenue for the automaker long after it's driven off the lot. Subscriptions launched in South Korea and are offered in the UK, Germany, New Zealand, and South Africa, but not the US yet.
Automakers have always charged more for optional features, but this—a system of microtransactions—is different. The abundance of software in cars now makes it all possible. All the vehicles already have the hardware to heat the front seats, but BMW has the system blocked by software. When consumers pay up, BMW unblocks the software governing front-seat heating. The fact that they've already paid for a vehicle with all the equipment has increased buyers' irritation, per the Verge, though the company tells buyers the installation was at "no extra cost." BMW does offer deals on the options: The heated seats can also be turned on for $180 a year, $300 for three years, or $415 for perpetuity. If payments are missed, CNN points out, BMW will turn the heat off. (Read more BMW stories.)