When Car and Driver dove into the menu of a 2023 BMW X1, the mag discovered an unexpected menu for subscription services. When C/D asked about the subscription catalog of features and pricing, BMW responded, "Upgrade availability depends on factors such as model year, equipment level, and software version, so this keeps things more digestible for consumers." That is, certain subscription options might not be available on a certain model or might require one or more additional options, so the automaker doesn't post the range of what's available and lets the customer figure it out. That strategy seems a bit coy, being the opposite of how automakers treat every other option.
When Motor Authority asked BMW about the C/D piece, BMW sent Motor Authority the rundown of the five U.S.-market subscriptions and their pricing. One is only offered as a subscription; Traffic Camera — which alerts drivers to speed cameras and requires the Live Cockpit option — is only sold at a price of $25 per year. Remote Engine Start, Driving Assistant Plus with Stop & Go, and Parking Assistant Professional can be activated with one-month, one-year, and three-year subscriptions or paid for permanently with a one-time cost like a traditional option. The Data Recorder doesn't offer a one-month subscription, only one-year or three-year, or it can also be had permanently with a one-time fee.
Other markets offer other features, some for subscription, some that can be activated after purchase — and that matrix varies by market. In the UK and Australia, Adaptive M Suspension are one-time costs after the sale. The UK store offers Active Cruise Control for a one-time fee, but the tech isn't offered in the BMW Australia store. BMW Drive Recorder, which is our Data Recorder, can be had for a free one-month subscription in the UK, after which it's £199 to buy if desired. In Australia, Drive Recorder gets the free trial, three subscription time periods, and an outright purchase option. In the UK, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and automatic high beams can be sampled with a free one-month trial, subscribed to for one month, one year, or three years, or paid for permanently outright. In Australia, the high beam assistant can only be purchased outright.
All of which leads us to believe automaker product boffins — and not just at BMW — are going to tinker with the formula in every market until they maximize earnings from vehicle features. When Apple and IKEA are exploring rental options for their products, and when FIFA Ultimate Team's in-game transactions make more every year ($1.6B) than Elden Ring made from selling 18 million copies of an entire game in 2022 ($1B), it's clear to everyone that getting large numbers of people to regularly pay a little is too much money to walk away from. So get your digital wallets ready.