BMW is expanding feature subscriptions in the US – and it’s not all bad

BMW has in recent years started offering features via subscription, where a vehicle’s owner can unlock features already built into the vehicle, typically via an over-the-air update.

Feature subscriptions used to be mostly limited to non-US markets, but that’s no longer the case. First noticed by Car and Driver during a recent test drive of the redesigned 2023 BMW X1, several are now available in the US

BMW provided the Motor Authority with a breakdown of what’s on offer on Wednesday, and it’s not all bad news.

For all but one feature, the owner of a vehicle has the option to purchase the feature directly through a one-time payment. The alternatives include one-month, one-year, and three-year subscriptions depending on the feature. For a customer who might only keep a vehicle for three years or less, the subscription may actually prove to be the cheaper option, although it can hurt resale value if potential buyers find they need to add the features back in.

BMW feature subscriptions

BMW feature subscriptions

Features currently available by subscription include Remote Engine Start, Drive Recorder, Traffic Camera, Driving Assistant Plus with Stop&Go and Parking Assistant Professional. Traffic Camera, BMW’s fixed and mobile speed camera alert feature, is the only feature that cannot be purchased directly. Instead, it’s offered exclusively through a $25 annual subscription. And since 2020 there has been a subscription to the Drive Recorder, whose camera permanently records a journey and automatically saves the last 20 seconds before a crash.

More automakers are beginning to introduce feature subscriptions. Mercedes-Benz recently began offering a $1,200 annual subscription on select EQ-branded EVs to unleash maximum performance.

Volvo, which pioneered a subscription model as an alternative to buying or leasing a car, is also exploring subscriptions for features but said it will limit subscriptions to essential items like a self-driving system.

Not everyone is thrilled with the idea of ​​features requiring a subscription, especially when they’re already built into the vehicle and just require software to unlock them. Two members of the New Jersey General Assembly, Paul Moriarty and Joe Danielsen, introduced Bill No. 4519 last September aimed at making it illegal for automakers and dealerships to sell subscriptions to features that use hardware that’s already in use installed in the vehicle at the time of purchase. However, the bill allows for a proviso for features that require ongoing costs for the automaker, dealer, or third party, such as B. Content streaming services and newer self-driving systems that will be updated over time.