After hemming and hawing about it for several years, and despite a backlash from existing owners upset by the prospect, the future of automotive retail is finally here. A growing number of automakers, including both luxury luminaries like Mercedes-Benz and BMW and mainstream brands such as General Motors and Ford, are expanding plans to make certain vehicle features available by subscription only.
This means that, on top of signing up for regular payments on satellite radio or online concierge services, owners will be expected to open up their wallets on a pay-as-you-go basis to access features such as automated parking, or unlock additional horsepower from the drivetrain. All of which, of course, is over and above the standard monthly lease or purchase payment that used to bundle all of an automobile’s equipment together at the time of sale (and amortize it out over the course of the contract).
Buying an off-lease car or a secondhand vehicle is going to be a lot more complicated three years from now once feature subscriptions have made it impossible to know for sure what equipment you’re getting, or even how much horsepower a specific model has. I look at the impact the automotive feature subscriptions will have on residual values, gray-market hacking, and long-term usability concerns in this feature for InsideHook.