BMW now charges for heated car seats. Will others follow?

BMW has taken the lead, charging drivers to heat seats in their cars. Is this the future of life?

How much would you pay to be able to sit in comfort in your car? You may think, after spending thousands on the vehicle, that you won't need to spend an extra dime. And historically, that would have been the case. But things are changing – and fast.

For the last two years, auto manufacturer BMW has been selling subscriptions for a number of services that would traditionally be included in the purchase price of a vehicle. Everything from safety camera information to automatic high beam switching on and off – to yes, heated seats – can be bought as optional extras in countries like the UK, Germany, New Zealand, South Korea, and South Africa.

It’s the start of a new shift towards a world in which what was once thought of as a basic, free service is eked out to make money in as many ways as possible.

Hotels, cars, and in-app purchases

Anyone who’s stayed in a hotel lately will recognize the shift in how microtransactions have taken over the world. Want housekeeping? What used to be a standard service now costs extra. But it’s also the case in tech. From loot boxes in games that allow you to buy additional items that help improve your experience – but cost money – to all-access passes, it’s possible to pay your way for what was once a free experience.

The same is true in tech-enabled areas, such as theme parks. Disney and Universal have both introduced paid-for line jumping systems, bookable through their apps.

Netflix wants to charge you more to be able to use your account in separate places and on different screens, while even the privilege of getting short-term, fast delivery from Amazon costs extra through Prime. If you're used to free comfort, prepare to pay money to enjoy it once again.

The need for speed

But it’s the microtransactions in cars that are proving the most controversial element of this attempt to squeeze out every last cent from consumers. The actions have proved perhaps most controversial because of the integral nature of cars to many people: you need them to travel from point A to point B, and expect, when buying something at such a high cost, to have it all included.

But that’s not the case. BMW charges customers to have access to a heated steering wheel, which will set them back $12 a month; having the ability to record footage from your car’s cameras, which could be vital in the case of an accident, costs $235 for “unlimited” use, while there’s the opportunity to have the ability to play engine sounds within your car cabin. The so-called “IconicSounds Sport package” is a one-off fee of $117.

If it all sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is – but it’s the direction of travel. The rise of in-app purchases has indicated that we’re willing to pay extra, and companies now know it. They’re trying everything they can to ensure they maximize profits per user, and if that means slipping what were once free features behind a kind of paywall, then so be it.

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