Automakers are exploring novel new ways to charge you money, and one of the fresh ideas they’ve landed on is to charge subscription fees for features previously sold as options—you know, the kinds you’d pay extra for once, when buying the car. We’re talking about heated seats, or as BMW already is doing, Apple CarPlay phone-pairing capability (never mind that CarPlay is, um, included for free on many mainstream cars these days… ). Cox Automotive surveyed a relatively small group (217) of would-be car shoppers about their feelings on paying over and over again for features that used to be included at the point of sale, and the results should give automakers pause.
Per Cox’s survey, a full three quarters of respondents would refuse to pay for features on an ongoing basis. The percentages of “no” responses for subscription models for safety features was even higher—80 percent—though conversely, if forced to, those same respondents would pay up to $35 per month for them, the highest dollar value the survey takers assigned to hypothetical subscription fees they could bear.
Fully 92 percent of respondents felt more physical items such as heated and cooled seats should be bought one time at the point of sale, rather than paid for over time, potentially indicating a familiarity with the idea that such mechanical upgrades would likely need to be installed in the car when new whether paid for or not, and are simply shut off unless the customer pays for them, unlike software-related upgrades, which some felt were acceptable to charge for later.
That software/mechanical distinction was made clearer by the survey’s results around subscription fees around things like power upgrades in EVs, vehicle locators, and over-the-air software enhancements. Strangely, folks were less enthused about paying for more driving range or battery capacity in EVs, though perhaps because that falls into the same category as heated seats—the battery as installed at the factory has the capacity, ultimately, but the automaker charges you to unlock it even though it’s already onboard your ride.
While the sample size of this survey was small, there are a few key takeaways, most notable of which is that about half the respondents weren’t aware that subscription-fees-for-car-features are a thing. The results also suggest automakers will need to put in some work garnering feedback from their customers about their tolerance for these fees generally, and how they feel about their application to various features specifically.