BMW Heats Up Subscription Market by Charging for Heated Seats in Some Countries

By Jonathan Spira on 14 July 2022
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Please deposit 25 cents for another hour of steering wheel heating.

Move Comes 6 Years After Failed Attempt for Apple CarPlay Subscription

On an episode of the mockumentary television comedy “Come Fly With Me” from 2010, Omar Baba, the CEO of FlyLo (a parody amalgamation of Flybe, Ryanair, and EasyJet), explains he’s “made it easier than ever for passengers to use the lifejacket.”

“Simply reach under your seat,” he says in the episode as he pulls out a large credit-card terminal that asks “Do you want to purchase life jacket [sic]?”   For a grand total of £60 ($70.72), including priority disembarkation, all he has to do is swipe his credit card.

“Life jacket is now mine… for 20 minutes.”

Of course, no real airline has attempted to charge for the use of life-saving safety equipment yet, but BMW is now attempting to charge a subscription fee for the use of heated seats in its vehicles.

The move comes six years after BMW began to offer the Apple CarPlay infotainment system on a subscription basis.  In 2016, it decided to charge $300 to include the feature and then turned it into an $80-per-year subscription. 

After complaints numbering in the thousands, BMW walked back the policy and rethought its strategy.  CarPlay was once again free.

Now BMW is doing the same thing with heated seats and heated steering wheels in some markets, including reportedly Germany, South Africa, South Korea, and New Zealand.

If the driver only wants heated seats in the winter time, he can “save” money by just paying $18 per month from November through February but an annual subscription is $180.  A lifetime subscription is $415.   This doesn’t include a heated steering wheel, however.  That will add $10 per month to the bill.

While subscribing for an entire car is one thing – and most carmakers have already ditched their early attempts to offer such a model – subscribing to something as basic as heated seats shows that BMW has an extremely short memory.  The comments at the time the Bavarian automaker began to offer the CarPlay subscription back in 2016 on online forums such as Bimmerfest ranged from “highway robbery” to “rip-off” to “verrückt,” the German word for crazy or nuts.

While it’s understandable in a market severely constrained by supply chain woes that automakers would want to seek out new revenue opportunities, burning customers on their behinds is likely not the best choice.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)