Home » When Is It OK to Charge A Subscription Fee For Access To A Feature That Already Exists In Your Car?

When Is It OK to Charge A Subscription Fee For Access To A Feature That Already Exists In Your Car?

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As you surely read in today’s Morning Constitutional, Mercedes will be offering a more-horsepower option (“Accelation Increase On-Demand,” catchy) for the EQE 350 and EQS 450 electric sedans and SUVs. And what kind of bolt-ons does one apply to an EV to boost power, you ask? The answer is none, not even a cold-air intake (which would feed what, exactly? No idea). No, ’tis merely a few lines of code enabling the extra-cost performance. The required battery and motor capability is already in the car you paid for (are paying for. Or leasing?), but you have to submit additional monies to MB to access it. Which you can do as a monthly or annual subscription, or pony up and go for the Lifetime of Vehicle option to the tune of $1,950 (EQE 350) or $2,950 (EQS 450).

That is a bit nuts, if you ask me. [Editor’s Note: BMW did essentially the same thing with its BMW 320i and 328i gasoline cars. Just a software flash and you could get more horsepower! -DT] If the car can do a thing, it should be enabled to do the thing, I say. From day one, for the cost of buying the car. Or, perhaps your thinking is closer to that of our very own Patrick George – an extremely intelligent, insightful, and wrong man:

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I actually don’t think this is a terrible deal! You pay less than a grand per year to make your Mercedes go a full second quicker 0-60 mph. Tuning a gas Mercedes to do that would be a lot more expensive, probably, when you include parts, labor, time and so on. -PG)

So, what do you think of Mercedes’ subscription plan? When does a subscription for tech already built into your car make sense? Feel free to get into BMW’s subscription shenanigans as well as the subscription plans of any other offender … er novel marketers offering consumers more choices you wish to discuss. We’ll see you in the comments– right after we peruse some your replies to our last Ask: Which Current Car Model Would You Kill To Resurrect An Old One?

Autopian Answers Transp

Oh hey, it’s our pal Stef Schrader! She’s got good Mitsubishi and BMW takes and an Aliens reference, so she’s in. And for those of you who rapid-fired a bunch of great calls like CivoLee: clearly it’s not the first time you’ve thought about this, and we respect the passion.

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Stef Kill Kill

Are people really calling the Subaru Ascent the Ass Scent? Harsh. But yes: we’d happily kill it to bring back the Baja. And Saturn as an EV brand in exchange for Buick, as Myk-El suggests? I’d pull that trigger. Only in the States though. Not in China.

Ass Scent Buick

A bunch of you including Drew and nemebean had “Out with the new, in with the old” takes – which are pretty good takes, TBH. Never drove the old Juke, but I liked seeing ’em.

Ranger Juke

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Protodite, lowwall: we feel you. And speaking of the MPV, this is essential Multi Purpose Vehicle reading.

Saab Mpv

 

 

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Eric R
Eric R
4 months ago

Does increasing the horsepower output of those benzes bring them closer to operating near their design margins? Will MB pay more in warranty work to fix batteries and motors that have been run more aggressively? This isn’t so egregious to me. Most aftermarket tunes would void your warranty entirely.

I remember hearing about BMW and their heated seat subscription. Disgusting. I also seem to remember hearing BMW would charge a fee to allow users to access Carplay/Android Auto. This is bullshit to me as the software is maintained by Apple/Google. I had a Volvo that came with 3 years of free app usage but then you had to pay to keep using. That was reasonable as they are hosting the servers, maintaining the app, and paying for the data.

As others have said – if it’s a lockout on hardware that is already present it is simply greed. If it is a service that would cost the mfg money to continue, I am ok paying for it.

JDE
JDE
4 months ago
Reply to  Eric R

Seems like they are just trying to be middle men trying to skim the fees or app download costs off the Google or apple app stores. It is shitty, but if I were android auto I would not allow Benz to have Android auto or Apple play in their cars. for many of the younger folks this is a selling point.

Outofstep
Outofstep
4 months ago

I don’t know what the answer is but I do know that I’m still annoyed about Hyundai Blue Link. I understand that it’s an ongoing service so I can forgive it but the fact that you need to subscribe to 2 services just to get remote start is bullshit (not to ignore the fact that remote start is stuck behind a paywall!). Yes some of the things included in those services are useful but I am not paying $200 every year for things I might need. I already do that with insurance.

If my car gets stolen it can be immobilized? That’s great! Oh that’s part of the Remote package? Okay fine. Oh wait I need Connected Care AND the Remote package for that. Kiss my ass. The only useful thing I saw in Connected Care was collision notification. If it was all included for $100 per year I’d be much more inclined to sign up for it.

Drew
Drew
4 months ago

I have paid for satellite radio and remote functionality via app. Whether or not those things were worth the money to me, I understand charging a subscription for them. Provide content, updates, servers, and/or connectivity and you’ll need to maintain them.

I get charging a one-time unlock fee for features included in the manufacture of the vehicle to reduce variation, but locked to provide different trim levels. I salute those people who figure out how to unlock them anyway, but I get why a manufacturer would do that and it doesn’t feel gross in the way that a monthly fee for those features does. This should not be something that can be turned off remotely, either. You pay for it, the dealer or whoever plugs in and changes it, then it can’t be changed unless you go back to the dealer and have them remove it. Anything connected to the actual movement of the car should be as disconnected as possible from anything outside the car. (For the record, I’m even more against the ability to remotely summon your car because the potential for abuse seems massive, regardless of obvious safety concerns.)

And I really don’t want to rely on my vehicle checking for subscriptions for features I should own. Adding a layer of complexity just to collect fees is awful. When I press the button for the heated seats, it should send a signal to the seat. Not check for a subscription, get a signal back confirming, then send a signal. And tying performance to a subscription is dangerous. I go camping, start my car, and it doesn’t see my subscription, but I don’t realize the pedal is going to react differently? Not a great situation.

Phil Lindberg
Phil Lindberg
4 months ago

As one with a busy family – and a fleet of older cars – how do all of these subscription features work out for the owner of the vehicle when it’s 20-ish years old? I already have a Suburban with no-longer-supported OnStar hardware – but I never cared about that anyway. But, some day, I might care about other features that are subscription controlled today. How does this play out when the subscription mechanism is eventually phased out – yet the car itself still has lots of life left?

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
4 months ago
Reply to  Phil Lindberg

I don’t think the automakers care about making cars that last 20 years anymore. See non-serviceable transmissions.

My Goat Ate My Homework
My Goat Ate My Homework
4 months ago

I don’t think they ever did care about cars making it 20 years. But some of them can make it that long just as a byproduct of good initial quality. Especially if they use common components that span many models. If you ask them their horizon when they plan things I think the timeline is around 10 years if they were being honest. And, even then, not fully supported.

Studdley
Studdley
4 months ago

Henry Ford thought his customers were gonna bring the Model T’s to the grave

Studdley
Studdley
4 months ago
Reply to  Phil Lindberg

I can only imagine how expensive replacing the battery in that car will be in 10 years. It’ll be long dead by the time it hits 20.

Phil Lindberg
Phil Lindberg
4 months ago
Reply to  Studdley

Actually, I’m guessing (well, and hoping) that there will be a big market for replacement batteries for older EV’s that the OEM doesn’t really want to support. It’d be great to see startups find ways to implement newer battery technology into older cars.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
4 months ago
Reply to  Phil Lindberg

That market will have to compete with stationary battery banks. There’s lots of folks with rooftop solar that’d like to store energy during the day and use it at night.

ExParrot
ExParrot
4 months ago

I am willing to pay a subscription for continuous software updates, nav database updates, internet connectivity services, or a streaming entertainment suite.

Software, that once installed, increases the performance of the vehicle, but then never sees another update, should be available as a one time purchase, not a subscription. The only exceptions to that would be a software which is continually updated to optimize vehicle performance or longevity based on operational data.

Hardware should never be a subscription, unless it too is regularly changed out.

In short, if I’m going to continually pay a subscription, the manufacturer should be continually incurring cost for the service that is provided.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
4 months ago

The only reoccurring service I’d pay for would be wifi data and that’s only if my vehicle cannot link to my phone as a hotspot (GM’s new direction)

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
4 months ago

I suppose it depends what “feature that already exists” means.

Software is expensive to write. Paying something after I bought the car for a new application running on the same hardware is fair.

If the features requires hardware that’s already in the car and used for something else, like better safety or navigation features? I’m OK with that.

But paying to activate equipment that’s already in the car and completely disabled until I subscribe? GTFOtta here. That’s 100% profiteering. The hardware is there. You paid for it. Charging me extra for something you disabled because you can is a protection racket.

W124
W124
4 months ago

Never. Next question.

Rafael Ruivo
Rafael Ruivo
4 months ago

Don’t pay wall stuff that I can’t remove, change or use an alternative. Want to charge me for the equivalent of an ECU remap? Open that platform to competitors, so I can have a choice. Charge me for heated seats? Allow me to remove your hardware – or, better yet, allow me to operate the thing myself. If I have the hardware on my car, that I paid for, but I’m not allowed to use it, it isn’t really mine, it is the manufacturer – so please collect your junk, I don’t want to haul it around.

88CieraXC
88CieraXC
4 months ago

I’m jumping in late to say “never”. If it is physic installed in the vehicle, it should allow the capability. There is room, however, for subscription services, like satellite radio, ut that’s a third party vendor unowned by the selling party.

Case in point: my 2008 Lexus rx350 has a button for satellite radio, however the reciever, antenna, etc is not installed. Should i find the parts and install them myself, i still gotta pay for access.

But heated seats? Sat nav? Shit that’s been free and part of our lives since the 90s?

Charge me for heated seats: i’m getting some heating pads and a power inverter.

Charge me for gps? My phone got that shit on lockdown

Bluetooth/wireless access? This car got a tape deck and i have my own bluetooth adapter. Shit works in my 1988 olds as well. All this serves to do is chase off prospective new car buyers.

Look, i am ngl, i love my old, weird, half broken old cars. But one day ,i dream, to point at something on a lot, say “That” and drive off into the sunset happy. I don’t want to find out my seat won’t adjust or the ac won’t turn on unless i pay 60 bucks a month cumulative for the 3 separate services, cause that’s when the car gets parked with the word “FREE” carved into the hood and the title impaled with a knife above it and i go back to the olds. Because fuck that shit, i would pay 150 bucks every 5 years and about 2k a year to keep the fucker running vs 10k a year and another 500 in subscription. Fuck it, fleece the rich idiots, bring back the Ciera Wagon.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
4 months ago

“Ass Scent” is an incredible nickname, haha. That’s what you get after consuming 19 cupholders worth of coffee.

As for today’s question, how about never? I’mma answer never. Subscriptions for things that are already on the car aren’t analogous to tuning. A tune is something you pay for once and ultimately own. I don’t mind upgrades with one-time fees. I want to pay once and own my stuff. If I wanted to lease a damn car, I’d lease a damn car. Any recurring monthly charge beyond maybe data or satellite radio service on top of the price of a new vehicle sold to me is a naked shakedown for cash. It’s the “you will own nothing and like it” meme come to life. Pure greed no one should pay to enable.

Drew
Drew
4 months ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

I hadn’t even considered the 19 cupholders, which still seems excessive every time I hear it. That is a more generous and clever interpretation than I had intended. I just figure those big people haulers end up with the kids’ sports teams or whatever in there and get stinky.

Avalanche Tremor
Avalanche Tremor
4 months ago

RE: Patrick’s take comparing it to tuning, I think the more accurate comparison to internal combustion would be if Mercedes sold a V8 but with two cylinders deactivated unless you pay a fee to unlock them. They’re intentionally limiting hardware with software to create paid tiers.

Someone else already said it, but to me if it’s something that costs the supplier each month then it’s right to charge for it. But if it doesn’t cost them anything once the car is out the door, or to activate it, then that’s lame.

Drew
Drew
4 months ago

I think tuning is relatively accurate. It’s similar to the Chevy Colorado coming with the 2.7L Turbo with 8 speed transmission in either 237 or 310 hp. It’s the same engine and transmission, just a different tune for 63 extra hp (and better efficiency, which makes it the more desirable option, hands-down). Still really weird to do it as a subscription, but a one time fee doesn’t seem super gross. It’s kind of nice that you could potentially buy the vehicle, decide you want more power, and just buy the upgrade.

And, of course, there will be people immediately looking for ways to get the extra hp without paying. I’m not in the market for one of these, but I’ll be watching what people can do with them.

P Hans
P Hans
4 months ago

This is BS cooked up in a marketing and MBA team meeting. It is rotten to the core. You pay for the whole vehicle, youre using the whole vehicle.
This situation is excellent example of why right to repair is so critical, and you can add/remove features as you want yourself.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
4 months ago

“BMW did essentially the same thing with its BMW 320i and 328i gasoline cars. Just a software flash and you could get more horsepower!”

I disagree that these are equivalent. I presume the software flash altered the balance between performance and efficiency/longevity. A buyer might reasonably prefer a lower performance version that lasts longer and is more efficient. Plus, there might be a greater cost to the manufacturer if the software flash leads to more warranty claims.

With the Mercedes electric car, the battery and motor are designed to provide higher output, and unlocking higher output does not substantially change efficiency (in normal driving) or longevity. I doubt there are many buyers who would want the slower car purely because it is slower. Mercedes also does not stand to lose anything by making the faster version standard.

If no reasonable buyer would want the slow car and the manufacturer incurs no cost by making the fast car standard, it is ridiculous for the manufacturer to charge more for the fast car.

I’m not even going to start on the idea of selling this as a subscription. I can’t imagine flooring the accelerator and realizing my car is slow because I forgot to pay the horsepower bill.

Drew
Drew
4 months ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

The Chevy Colorado is perhaps a better analogue. The 310 hp factory tune is more efficient than the 237 hp tune. You gain efficiency by upgrading to more hp. Horsepower by subscription still feels super gross, but I can see a one-time upgrade.

Does it feel weird? Sure. Would I look at hacking it instead of paying? For legal purposes, I will say that I would only modify my vehicles within the strictest interpretation of the law, no matter what you might suspect or hear otherwise.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
4 months ago
Reply to  Drew

Is there any downside the Chevrolet Colorado tune? Is it emissions legal? Does it require premium fuel or reduce reliability? I am assuming there is some downside, either for the buyer or the manufacturer.

The closest thing I can come up with for a subscription-based power upgrade for cars is an update that requires premium fuel for maximum performance. You can pay the subscription (i.e. by buying premium fuel and getting more power) or you can settle for the lower power version (i.e. buy only regular fuel). That leaves the choice to the consumer, since there is an obvious benefit to not paying for premium fuel (i.e. the horsepower subscription fee). That is still different from MB charging an artificial fee to use the full capabilities of the vehicle.

My Goat Ate My Homework
My Goat Ate My Homework
4 months ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

I made this same point in an earlier article comments. I paid $800 for a GMPP tune to take my Sky Redline From 260ftlbs to 340 ftlbs. And that is NOT the same as this Merc BS.

My sky didn’t come like that from factory because the tune requires premium fuel, doesn’t have as smooth a tq curve (driveability), lost MPG, and is a little louder when on boost. So, there were a ton of reasons not to have it come that way in order to have a better balance car for the masses.

This Merc thing doesn’t have any of those tradeoffs. Hell, they even say it doesn’t lose any range. So the only reason not to send it out of the factory this way is 100% so they can charge more later.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
4 months ago

The Sky Redline tune is a great example. There are legitimate reasons buyers may or may not want the extra power, and buyers can choose which version is best for their situation.

I am irritated that MB is taking advantage of their buyer’s inexperience with electric vehicles. For decades, performance upgrades required equipment changes (i.e. larger engines, other expensive parts, premium gas, etc.), which set the expectation that higher performance incurs additional costs. In this case, MB knows the higher performance car incurs no additional costs for the manufacturer or consumer, but buyers don’t. A car dealer taking advantage of buyer ignorance is nothing new, but I’m not aware of a situation where a manufacturer artificially limited performance of an ICE vehicle to sell identical cars at different prices.

It seems like MB may be misrepresenting the vehicle to sell some at an inflated price. Is this even legal?

Jason Douglas
Jason Douglas
4 months ago

If it takes a continued investment by the manufacturer to maintain, then a subscription is ok. Constant updates to navigation. An OnStar like platform where you can contact a person directly for assistance right from your car. App services that allow you monitor your car: ie whether the doors are locked, if any maintenance or recall issues exist, unlocking/locking or starting/shutting off the engine from your phone. If it’s a feature that exists within the car and does not need constant support (like heated seats or cruise control), then it should be included in the price. If they want to include it on all cars manufactured to bring down the cost of production and then make it an option you can buy in full at the time of purchase or even later, then I’m cool with it as it is a one-time, full price deal. It would also need to be transferrable for when the car is resold.

Drew
Drew
4 months ago
Reply to  Jason Douglas

This is exactly where I land on this.

I also wonder what happens when your car can’t connect to the server to verify subscription status. Do you have a slower car without heated seats at that point, just because you went camping outside cell coverage?

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
4 months ago
Reply to  Drew

Semi related: I use an older phone with out of support Android, just to play music off an SD card. I have everything disabled on it because it doesn’t get security updates. Every so often my (paid) music app won’t run because it can’t do a license check without WiFi. Bruh, can’t you do a check once and remember it?

Protodite
Protodite
4 months ago
Reply to  Jason Douglas

Now I get what you mean, but truthfully, with regards to transference of features after initial buyer – it doesn’t matter since none of its gonna work outside warranty anyway!

Jim Zavist
Jim Zavist
4 months ago

I get that it’s sometimes easier for a manufacturer to include something in every vehicle, but not enable it. I also have no problem paying extra for a feature . . . once! I owned a base Tacoma that didn’t come with a backup camera screen (even though it had the camera and wiring) or intermittent wipers. I didn’t mind spending <$100 to swap out the wiper switch (and didn’t mess with the camera), but I’m not about to spend $5 or $10 a month to “enable” either feature/option.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Zavist

Similarly, my Yaris doesn’t have cruise control, but once I gather the courage to disconnect the airbag and pull the steering wheel, a stalk from another Toyota will fit and Just Work™. Maybe I should see whether a better wiper stalk is an option at the same time…

Edit: I agree with you and other commenters here. If it costs money to maintain a service, it can command a monthly fee, but if it’s a one-time built-in deal, go to hell, I’ll pay once or never.

Last edited 4 months ago by FuzzyPlushroom
Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
4 months ago

When the feature requires outside employees and infrastructure to continue working (eg, satellite radio, arguably certain types of navigation and assistance services such as OnStar). Otherwise, if its already installed in the vehicle and doesn’t require a back and forth communication with something outside the vehicle to function (unless the manufacturer specifically disables it solely for the purpose of charging a subscription), then no, its yours, you paid for it when you bought the car.

To put it in the context of the next biggest purchase the average person will make, in the case of a house, you have the option of paying a cable company for a subscription if you want, but that’s purely an option, you can still choose to just watch free, over-the-air broadcast TV if you want and not pay anything, same with satellite radio vs terrestrial radio in your car.

But, home builders don’t get to charge you a monthly fee for the right to access your basement or the ability to use your oven. You bought the house, you own everything in it, end of transaction.

FlavouredMilk
FlavouredMilk
4 months ago

I think it’s fairly simple. If the feature exists in its entirety within the vehicle, but is locked behind a paywall, that’s a no-no for subscriptions.

If it’s access to a feature that is a service being provided to the car, sure, that’s what you’re paying for and that makes sense.

I don’t expect Netflix to be magically pre-loaded into my 40″ dash screen, but I do expect my heated seats to be wired straight to a button within my reach.

Peter d
Peter d
4 months ago

For those who have yet to subscribe to the Autopian please join so they can afford to hire Steph full time it’s not fair for such a talented writer to be only lurking in the comments!

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
4 months ago

When it requires an active presence on the other end with payroll to support it (OnStar) or constantly replenished content (satellite radio). That’s it.

Ana Osato
Ana Osato
4 months ago

“When Is It OK to Charge a Subscription for Access?”

When it’s a rental.

Leelze
Leelze
4 months ago

I can understand WHY a manufacturer would want to have something like that, but that doesn’t mean I like it. Even if I was ok with Mercedes doing this, I know they’ll keep on adding features to this subscription crap.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
4 months ago

Subscriptions only make sense for features that involve data. “Self-driving” features with frequently updated maps? Sure. A phone app that for remote start? Fine, as long as there’s also a key fob. Seat warmers, horsepower, anything where all the parts are already on the vehicle? No way.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
4 months ago

A phone app for remote start as a subscription? That sounds insane to me.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
4 months ago
Reply to  Harvey Park

That’s been around for years, people are already paying for that.

Drew
Drew
4 months ago
Reply to  Harvey Park

Generally, the phone app provides a bit more functionality than that. Check status of the car, lock/unlock from anywhere, find the car, etc. It all runs through servers and cell connections, so it makes some sense as a subscription.

Kia actually has multiple levels of theirs. For free, you can use the app to do very little besides track your service intervals and such. The next level provides geofence and speed alerts. The next one gives you remote start with climate control, lock/unlock, and live location of your vehicle. The top level is worthless to me, but maybe some like it. It lets you tell Alexa or whatever what you want the car to do and also send nav requests to the car. I use Android Auto, so my nav requests are easy, and I don’t need Alexa or whatever.

Paul Beaudet
Paul Beaudet
4 months ago

Once the Ukrainian farmers are done towing Russian tanks, their John Deere DRM hacking team can get cracking on these subscription features.

Bruce Larson
Bruce Larson
4 months ago

It makes sense when your client base is dumb enough to pay for it.

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