BMW has sparked debate after offering an online subscription to turn on heated front seats in its cars in the UK for £15 per month. A monthly heated steering wheel subscription costs £10.
Subscriptions have been available for features on BMW cars for some time in the UK, but the heated seat offer started this month.
The company says customers can enable all hardware features for a one-time payment if they prefer.
The features are available via BMW’s ConnectedDrive online store and are activated remotely, with no need to visit a dealer.
The heated seat offer is available in the UK, but the BMW subscriptions that are available vary by country.
The manufacturer told the BBC that “where heated seats, or any feature available in the ConnectedDrive store have been purchased when a customer vehicle is ordered, no subsequent subscription or payment is necessary”.
But the company argues that the ability to add new features can be helpful for owners who change their minds after purchase. And it is particularly useful, BMW wrote, for second-hand car owners, “as they now have the opportunity to add features the original owner did not choose”.
Subscriptions also enable drivers to “experiment with a feature by purchasing a short-term trial before committing to a purchase”, the company added.
However, unlimited use of a feature can be purchased. For £200, those with chilly hands can enjoy a warm wheel for “as long as the technical prerequisites are met for this vehicle”.
The news has sparked online debate, with news site The Verge saying: “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.”
The Register said that while it could work as a way for owners to add features as they can afford them, “on the other hand, it may feel like buying a mug and having to rent the handle”.
A number of the reports note BMW’s move is part of a wider industry trend with a range of car-makers offering subscriptions.
There were negative comments on social media too, with one Twitter user writing: “Subscriptions for software is one thing, no-one is going to subscribe for heated seats or whatever, if I own the car I own everything in it.”
And Kurt Opsahl, general counsel of digital civil liberties campaign group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, tweeted: “A seat heater blocked by software is broken, and the car owner should have the right to repair their seats.”