BMW's unpopular subscription services surface again in South Korea

·2 min read

Love it or hate it, connected cars are here to stay. Buying a new vehicle today means downloading a companion app, regularly updating software, and contending with sometimes finicky controls. Taking advantage of this constant connectivity (again) is BMW, no stranger to blowback over random subscription charges. The automaker’s South Korean arm rolled out several new subscription services that require additional payments for popular features like heated seats.

Owners can purchase the features through BMW’s ConnectedDrive Store, and in case you’re wondering how a software update can add physical features to the car, it might anger you to know that the hardware is already there. You just don’t have access to it without paying more.

BMW South Korea charges $18 per month for heated seats, but buyers can opt to pay for a year at $176 or three years for $283. If you want the feature forever, BMW will sell it to you for $406. Want a heated steering wheel? If you don’t want to pay $222 for permanent access, get ready to shell out $10 per month, $92 per year, or $161 for three years. Wireless Apple CarPlay costs $305, and the ConnectedDrive store features several other added-cost upgrades.

Remember that this is not BMW’s first rodeo with subscription services. In 2019, the automaker made waves with its decision to stop selling Apple CarPlay as a $300 option and start offering it for $80 a year or $300 for 20 years. While those aren’t outrageous costs, being asked to pay for a service that others get for free feels like a slap in the face, especially at the prices new BMWs sell for. The uproar led BMW to reverse course, and it quickly resumed offering the tech for free, refunding anyone unlucky enough to have paid for the service.

With the disclaimer that you “shouldn’t try this at home,” we’ll tell you that someone will probably come up with a way around paying for these things. However, while BMW South Korea’s warranty policies may be different than they are here, it’s almost universally understood that fiddling with a car’s electronics voids its warranty coverage.

We’d say things are better here in North America, but the writing is on the wall. Automakers expect to rake in billions on apps, connected services, and vehicle feature subscriptions. So, while you may not care to shop on Amazon from the driver’s seat, your car’s manufacturer will likely start chasing you to advertise the latest and greatest.

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