Now Audi plans to ramp-up charging extra to unlock features built into its cars – despite huge driver backlash to paywall tactic by rival brand BMW
When BMW confirmed last year that it would charge its customers extra to unlock features already built into its cars, including £15 a month to use heated seats, it sparked outrage among drivers.
Interestingly, the Bavarian brand only recently decided to backtrack on the idea, but one of its biggest German rivals says it still plans to expand the availability of ‘on demand’ features, which are locked behind a paywall, into its implement future models.
Audi’s head of technical development, Oliver Hoffmann, said Coach that its next-generation models – including the popular A4 family sedan – will have more functions and features that owners can purchase on an ad hoc basis.
Similar moves by Porsche and Skoda in recent months have sparked angry reactions from some motorists who have criticized carmakers for trying to charge subscriptions for features already installed in the vehicles.
Audi’s Oliver Hoffmann says the brand’s next generation of cars – including the upcoming A4 family sedan – will have more features that owners can buy on an ad hoc basis
Mr Hoffmann told the carmaker that Audi will soon increase the availability of ‘on-demand feature’, saying buyers will ‘see new features in cars year after year’ and that the subscription-based model will soon become ‘very common’ .
He claimed to Autocar that the decision to offer unlockable features is “a response to consumer demand” and not an attempt to squeeze bigger profit margins out of its existing customers – although motorists are unlikely to agree with that sentiment .
Currently, Audi only offers unlockable features in its e-tron and e-tron Sportback EVs, which are available via the ‘myAudi’ app.
It includes access to an upgraded ‘LED Matrix Pack’ with automatic high beam functionality, a ‘Light Function Pack’ that displays animations via the LEDs when locking and unlocking the car, and ‘Parking Assist’ to use the semi-autonomous system that can find a spot can find and park itself.
Currently, Audi only offers unlockable features in its e-tron and e-tron Sportback EVs, which are available via the ‘myAudi’ app
Hoffmann (pictured) told Autocar that the decision to offer unlockable features is “a response to consumer demand” and not an attempt to squeeze out bigger profit margins
These are available through three different subscription lengths at increasing prices: ‘try’ gets you access for six months; ‘experience’ means that the position has been available for a maximum of four years; and ‘own’ allows you to purchase the feature directly.
Hoffmann spoke to Autocar shortly after BMW confirmed it would stop charging extra fees to activate hardware-based features on its cars.
Not only did it charge a monthly subscription for heated seats at £15, customers were told they could enable the heated steering wheel functionality for £10 a month.
BMW sparked outrage last year when it told its customers they would have to pay a monthly subscription to add features to their cars, despite the vehicle already being equipped with the technology.
This screenshot from BMW UK’s Connected Drive section of its website from last year shows the different purchase and subscription options available for heated front seats
Do you only want a heated steering wheel in your BMW in winter? The German brand once charged £10 a month for the luxury
I spoke to Autocar in Septembersays BMW’s board member for sales and marketing, Pieter Nota: ‘In fact, with these ‘functions on demand’ we are now focusing on software and service-related products, such as driving assistance and parking assistance, which you can add later after purchasing the car, or on certain functions that require data transmission that customers are used to in other areas to pay.’
‘What we no longer do – and this is a very well-known example – is offer seat heating in this way. It’s in or out. We offer it through the factory and you either have it or you don’t.”
He further admitted that the decision to charge customers extra for access to heated seats and faster internet connections in the expensive new models had backfired as user acceptance was not as high.
When the BMW story made headlines last year, many people took to social media to decry the idea.
Reacting to the news on Twitter – now X – one user said: ‘BMW is seriously asking for monthly subscriptions for heated seats and heated steering wheels.
‘Components that are already in your very expensive cars, controlled by software #greedy Opportunistic.
‘What now? “We’re sorry, but your car is not allowed to be driven on Sundays.”
Another said: ‘Although I don’t need heated seats, I would consider looking at other brands.
“If a company is so eager to charge money for something like this, I wonder about the overall quality of their vehicles.”
However, not everyone is completely against the concept of paying for on-demand features during specific months.
One user tweeted: ‘Sounds crazy, but if you think about it, it might make sense.
‘If there is no additional upfront cost for specifying heated seats in the car, paying only for the winter months might make more sense.
“You should see the math!”
Skoda also recently caused a stir by confirming that its new Kodiaq SUV will not have satellite navigation as standard and that drivers who want the navigation feature will have to pay extra to download it..
Mercedes and Porsche also offer similar on-demand subscriptions for driver assistance packages and Wi-Fi upgrades.
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on it, we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow a commercial relationship to compromise our editorial independence.