Your car will have an app store soon, how much do you plan to spend?
A long time ago, we bought a TV, and it was good. Then we got a monthly subscription to cable. And then it came with internet and WiFi. Now there's Netflix and Disney and HBO and Apple TV. Our monthly bill went from 75 bucks a month to $225. Then we bought a car, and it was good. But we wanted satellite radio, and that was fine because it was only $10 a month. But then we added WiFi to that, and then "connected services," and before we knew it, our car payment went from $399 a month to $599.
That's an extreme example, but as we've seen from Audi and others, features-as-a-subscription is coming. And with over-the-air software updates, they'll become way more common in the next decade or so. Just imagine an app store on your infotainment screen. We started thinking about this phenomenon after a story by a journalist who was asked by his BMW if he wanted to instantly buy High Beam Assist, normally an upsell, for 160 euros. It's a feature the car had inside, but it was locked behind a paywall.
We wanted to dig into this practice to see who's doing what, when, and how much it will cost. Several manufactures have, or are working on "vehicle subscription services," where you pay one cost and drive whatever you want, but today we're only talking about features as services. We'll say here that some manufacturers are being cagey about prices and timelines. We're guessing that means they might be mulling it over, watching were the public perception lands. We'll also note that many of these services come free for a certain period and are then charged by the month after.
Audi's new feature-as-subscription setup, in case you missed it, is called Function on Demand. It will be offered on the 2021 Audi Q5, A4, and A5, as well as the electric e-tron crossover. It will include things like navigation, higher-speed WiFi, and other features. That's $85 a month; if you buy it for a year it goes down to $71 a month. Owners of the e-tron and e-tron Sportback Premium models can also order the Light Function Package, which adds turning light, dynamic cornering light, and maneuvering light functions. That feature is a one-time cost of $259.99 for the lifetime of the vehicle.
The company line, and a sensible one, is that you only pay for these features when you need them. That sounds great. However, like Netflix, we could see customers paying for these features, using them sometimes, and never canceling, either from laziness or just not caring about the extra charge. Audi did say that if a new car is ordered without navigation, etc., it can be paid for and added later by the next buyer.
BMW currently has two pilot programs in the US for what it's calling Functions on Demand. They are for Remote Start and the Drive Recorder (i.e. dash camera). Remote Start is self-explanatory. The Drive Recorder uses the front- and rear-facing cameras to record 40-second increments, either when you want to, or before and after an accident. Basically, it's always running and will grab the 20 seconds before the crash and 20 seconds after. It only stores 10 short files, so this wouldn't be used instead of a GoPro at a track day. BMW never got back to us with how much it will cost, either initially or after a trial period.
Mercedes customers get a complimentary 3-year subscription to select features available on their Mercedes me connected car platform upon the purchase or lease of a new vehicle. The complimentary subscription was first offered for model-year 2019 vehicles. It comes with a bunch of remote access features including remote start, remote lock and unlock, remote access to vehicle status, vehicle locator, maintenance management, and the ability to find and send Points Of Interest (POI) directly to the car's navigation system. Mercedes wouldn't share what those features cost after the three-year subscription is up, though.
The new EQS luxury EV sedan will offer more, including charging you for an additional driving sound called Roaring Pulse, available in the store. You also have to pay to get the extra 5.5 degrees of rear steering, for some reason. The release also notes that "in addition to the classic purchase of individual functions, subscriptions, temporary activations and free test phases are also planned," suggesting you might be able to trial features and decide to go all in to improve the handling or comfort of the car.
In May, Volkswagen's Klaus Zellmer talked about autonomous driving as a feature to subscribe to, with VW doing the math on what it would take to make Level 4 autonomy work. The installation of such a system is in the five-figure range, but if every car gets the system from the factory, things change.
"Who's going to pay [five figures]? It's not for the mass market. Now take the case that we install that and switch it on and off remotely," said Zellmer. "Our cost modelling says if we charge €7 an hour for Level 4 autonomous drive mode, this is a profitable business case."
Things aren't as advanced yet for VW in America. For now, "it's Sirius and most of the Car-Net services," said VW's Mark Gillies. "With an active data plan, the Plus Nav package ($49/year) allows drivers to access online route updates, traffic reports, fuel prices, and parking information. The Plus Speech package ($9/year) offers advanced voice controls using natural language, and the Plus Online Radio Package ($8/year) offers online internet radio with 30,000+ radio stations and podcasts. Media streaming apps can also be accessed at no additional charge, including iHeartRadio and TIDAL (both require existing accounts)."
GM brands, Chevy, Cadillac, Buick and GMC all start with OnStar. Packages start at $14.99 a month. But the company's latest Super Cruise tech is on its own plan.
"For Super Cruise, after the included connectivity expires, customers in the US can purchase a standalone Super Cruise plan, which is currently priced at $25 per month, or an eligible Connected Services plan that includes Super Cruise," said GM. "The Super Cruise plan enables the map updates and precise GPS corrections required for Super Cruise to function, and also connects the vehicle to an OnStar Emergency advisor in a case where a driver is non-responsive to escalating alerts."
Toyota offers subscriptions for items such as SiriusXM and Connected Services features - from Safety Connect, Service and Remote Connect convenience services, as well as WiFi. Those services are offered with trial periods from 1 to 3 years from the date of purchase. After those trial periods are up, they cost $80 per year or $8 per month.
Toyota Safety Connect is like GM's OnStar. It features automatic collision notification, enhanced roadside assistance, an emergency assistance button, and a stolen vehicle locator. Remote Connect is an app for your phone to check in on vehicle status, start your car remotely, check on charging status and location, and initiate climate control before you get in. Finally, there's destination assist, which lets you call a representative to get directions.
"However, later this year we will be introducing an all-new multimedia system which will introduce more advanced features, including OTA (over-the-air) updates for features such as navigation and other convenience items to allow both Lexus and Toyota owners to have an always updated, continuously improved in-vehicle multimedia experience," said Toyota's Corey Proffitt. "Details on servicing and packaging are not available yet, unfortunately."
Kia doesn't currently offer WiFi, but it will when the new EV6 arrives early next year. For the record, those usually start out with a free trial period, but then piggyback on your phone plan after that for more gigabytes. Its new Carnival MPV has the widest selection in its current range, with UVO telematics. It includes a ton of features in four grades, the first of which is free for five years.
That "Lite" package offers trip info, 911 connect, a maintenance reminder, remote mileage check, remote stop and charge, and charge status notification on EVs. The Care package ($5.99 a month or $59.99 per year) adds roadside assistance, geofencing, and all of your teen driving restrictions. The Plus package ($14.99 a month or $149 for the year) adds climate scheduling, "find my car," and your remote locking, horn, and lights. Finally, the Ultimate package ($19.99 a month or $199 per year) includes everything in the lower packages, plus Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, UVO voice assist, and connected routing.
For subscription-based services, Nissan offers NissanConnect Services - NissanConnect EV & Services for Nissan Leafs - and WiFi hotspot and SiriusXM satellite radio. WiFi is as low as $10 a month if you're an AT&T customer and a minimum of $15/month for 2GB of data if you are not. NissanConnect comes in three grades: Convenience, Security, and Premium. Convenience ($8/month) adds Nissan Concierge, remote engine start, and more. The Security ($8/month) option includes automatic collision notification and custom alerts for speed and boundaries, and Premium is both packages combined for $12.99 a month.
"While we haven't announced future feature subscription programs, our vehicles offer over-the-air updates to our telematics and infotainment systems that will allow us to offer new products to both the new car and existing owner," said Nissan.
Ford's latest vehicles, like the Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lightning, with the right hardware will be able to use its BlueCruise semi-autonomous driving system. It will allow owners to navigate more than 100,000 roads in North America without using their hands, but it won't be available from the start. It costs just $600 for the first three years but Ford hasn't announced how much it will cost after that.
It also offers Ford Commercial Solutions for its business customers, especially those that will be buying the E-Transit and F-150 Lightning Pro. That system tracks your fleet, tells you the status of each vehicle, let's you know when they need service and more. But we doubt many of you will need that subscription.
Even electric supercar maker Rimac is getting in on the action. Its new Nevera comes with something called the AI Driver Coach. It "evaluates performance and provides guidance to optimize and enhance the driver's on-track performance." It does this by using 12 ultrasonic sensors, 13 cameras, six radars, and the latest NVIDIA Pegasus operating system. The system overlays racetracks in real-time "offering clear and precise audio and visual guidance, to enable drivers to perfect their racing lines." It launches as an over-the-air update in 2022 as a no-cost option, and Rimac says all cars will have the hardware from the factory.
We emailed every automaker for this story, so if your brand wasn't included it's because they didn't get back to us or don't have any features like this in the works. The Stellantis brands are holding off, as is Bentley. Ferrari and Lamborghini don't have features as subscriptions yet, nor does McLaren, but we suppose when you blow past a six-figure price tag, buyers don't expect an extra charge for something like automatic headlights.
WiFi is an interesting one. Most cars piggyback on your phone service, but AT&T and others are partnering with brands if owners don't want it connected to their personal cell. Prices vary depending on how much speed and data you want. With streaming video coming to your backseat soon you'll need a lot of data. At some point, we'll pass this part of history, and hopefully go back to an all-in-one price scheme.
We'll be updating this article often, as more automakers add features to their respective portfolios. Expect it to be another resource when telling your friends what they should buy.