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BMW starts selling heated seat subscriptions for $18 a month

BMW starts selling heated seat subscriptions for $18 a month


The auto industry is racing towards a future full of microtransactions

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Photo by Silas Stein/picture alliance via Getty Images

BMW is now selling subscriptions for heated seats in a number of countries — the latest example of the company’s adoption of microtransactions for high-end car features.

A monthly subscription to heat your BMW’s front seats costs roughly $18, with options to subscribe for a year ($180), three years ($300), or pay for “unlimited” access for $415.

It’s not clear exactly when BMW started offering this feature as a subscription, or in which countries, but a number of outlets this week reported spotting its launch in South Korea.

BMW has slowly been putting features behind subscriptions since 2020, and heated seats subs are now available in BMW’s digital stores in countries including the UK, Germany, New Zealand, and South Africa. It doesn’t, however, seem to be an option in the US — yet.

A screenshot of BMW’s UK digital store, with subscriptions for heated seats and engine sounds.
A screenshot of BMW’s UK digital store, with subscriptions for heated seats and engine sounds.
Image: BMW

We’ve asked BMW for the exact details of this roll-out, but it was unable to say when the subscriptions had been launched in which countries. It’s no surprise that BMW isn’t trumpeting the news, though. Since the company announced in 2020 that its cars’ operating system would allow for microtransactions on features like automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control, customers have decried the move as greedy and exploitative.

Carmakers have always charged customers more money for high-end features, of course, but the dynamic is very different when software, rather than hardware, is the limiting factor.

Charging more for high-end features feels different when you already own them

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. For some software features that might lead to ongoing expenses for the carmaker (like automated traffic camera alerts, for example), charging a subscription seems more reasonable. But that’s not an issue for heated seats.

Other features that BMW is locking behind subscriptions (as per the company’s digital UK store) include heated steering wheels, from $12 a month; the option to record footage from your car’s cameras, priced at $235 for “unlimited” use; and the “IconicSounds Sport package,” which lets you play engine sounds in your car for a one-time fee of $117.

In the latter case, BMW notes that “the hardware for this feature has already been installed in your vehicle during production, at no extra cost.” How generous.