Microtransactions are slowly but steadily spreading beyond the realm of gaming and into the world of autos.
The latest evidence of that comes by way of BMW, which has begun selling monthly subscriptions for heated seats for their vehicles in select countries. Owners who want heated front seats will need to pay $18 per month for the apparent luxury, although other payment plans are available, including an annual subscription plan ($180), three-year subscription plan ($300), or an “unlimited” access plan for $415.
The tactic shouldn’t surprise those who have been following along with BMW’s newer technologies and business initiatives. Back in 2020, the automaker revealed that its new operating system would include support for microtransactions, something that would allow the company to charge for automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, and other features.
As The Verge explained in its coverage, this is a controversial business model because owners already own the hardware.
In the case of heated seats, for example, BMW owners already have all the necessary components, but BMW has simply placed a software block on their functionality that buyers then have to pay to remove. For some software features that might lead to ongoing expenses for the carmaker (like automated traffic camera alerts, for example), charging a subscription seems more reasonable. But that’s not an issue for heated seats.
BMW’s heated seat subscriptions have not reached the U.S. yet, but they are available now through BMW’s digital stores in UK, Germany, New Zealand, South Africa, and other countries.
BMW also sells subscription plans for heated steering wheels (from $12 a month), the ability to record footage from a car’s cameras ($235 for “unlimited” use), and IconicSounds Sport, a feature that lets owners play BMW engine sounds inside the car for a one-time fee of $117.