In mid-July, a tweet that now has more than 220,000 likes claimed that automaker BMW “is now selling a monthly subscription service for heated seats in your car.” The tweet says the cost is $18 a month or $180 annually.
The claim hasn’t only gone viral on Twitter. The four most popular breakout Google searches for BMW over the past month have been about this heated seat subscription.
Is BMW selling a monthly subscription service for heated seats?
Yes, BMW is selling a subscription service for heated seats, but only in some countries. BMW is not selling heated seat subscriptions in the United States.
WHAT WE FOUND
BMW can remotely give its newer cars upgrades, as well as enable or disable certain features, through a system it calls BMW ConnectedDrive. Through ConnectedDrive, BMW can give a car software updates. These software updates allow BMW to change a driver’s access to certain features based on if they pay for the feature through a subscription.
But ConnectedDrive does not function the same in every country.
BMW of North America issued a press release on July 15 to clarify that cars ordered with heated seats in the U.S. would not have to pay a subscription to use them. Heated seats are included in orders for more than 90% of the BMWs sold in the U.S., the company said.
“If a vehicle is initially ordered with heated seats, that option will remain fully operational for the life of the vehicle,” BMW of North America said. “BMW of North America does not expect factory option purchase levels to change significantly going forward.”
The company said that ConnectedDrive currently allows American customers to subscribe to two features: a dash cam and remote engine start.
Kelley Blue Book says BMW is using this subscription model more widely in South Korea, Germany, South Africa, the UK and a few other countries.
“Let’s be clear: BMW is not charging American buyers subscription fees for car features,” Kelley Blue Book says. “But it’s worth reporting because it probably will come here — and it probably won’t just be BMW that brings it.”
BMW does offer a subscription for heated seats in Japan, Malaysia, South Africa and several countries in Europe. In those countries, customers can choose a monthly subscription, an annual subscription, a subscription for three years or pay a one-time fee to use heated seats for the lifetime of the car. For example, in the United Kingdom, customers can pay the equivalent of $18 monthly for heated seats, $180 for the annual subscription or $450 to have heated seats for the lifetime of the car.
BMW of North America confirmed in a press release that this model of offering both subscriptions and lifetime purchase options for non-standard features will be the company’s plan for ConnectedDrive going forward.
“Customers will be able to explore new software-based features on a short-term basis by purchasing a trial, or buying that feature outright for a period of time or for the life of the vehicle,” BMW of North America said.
Cars.com said BMW tried to introduce a subscription model in the U.S. once before. In 2019, it asked vehicle owners to pay an $80 annual fee or a $300 fee for 20 years to access Apple CarPlay connectivity. Cars.com said it walked back on the decision following customer backlash.
BMW is far from the first auto company to offer services for a monthly subscription. GM has offered OnStar, its navigation and emergency service, for 25 years. Tesla offers a subscription for full self-driving capabilities at $99 or $199 per month based on the package.
An April 2022 survey by Kelley Blue Book parent company Cox Automotive found that 92% of surveyed consumers believed heated and cooled seats should be part of a vehicle’s purchase price, not offered in a subscription.
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