There is not a single person in this entire world who looks at hidden fees in any purchase and does a fist-bump of victory. Well, maybe the people who put those fees in there in the first place. But the plague of extra fees to use certain aspects of a thing you already paid for is likely going to be taking over the automotive world here in the near future.
Charging a subscription fee for a feature already installed in your car is nothing new if you’ve already been paying for, say, SiriusXM. But more and more automakers are lining up to start charging you yearly or monthly fees to use things like, say, voice activation of driving assists.
You can already find subscription features on luxury automakers like Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Porsche, and Tesla, but Consumer Reports is projecting that more and more marques are going to start doing something similar. From the article:
Industry analysts tell CR that subscriptions could become a more mainstream way for automakers to deliver features. In the future, car buyers might need to weigh the benefits of buying vs. subscribing to options, and they may end up with a recurring payment even if a car is paid off.
But under some of the subscription model scenarios suggested by automakers, certain features might disappear as soon as the monthly or yearly payment stops, in the same way your streaming or phone services stop when you cancel your subscription or fail to pay.
While the big argument here is that people already subscribe to services to watch TV and movies or listen to music, I can’t help but think these things are massively different. TV packages have always existed on a subscription model where you pay to watch certain channels, and if you wanted to listen to certain artists, you had to buy their albums, anyway. It’s not a huge shift to pay $10 a month for Spotify if you were spending that much—or more—on buying new music already.
Cars and homes are traditionally Big Purchases. Yes, you might pay a monthly fee on them, but there comes a time when you’ll either pay off the car or swap it for a new one. Whatever the case, your monthly payment goes toward ownership of a vehicle with options you can count on being there every month.
I have to admit that there could be some benefits. You can buy a base-level car and later, when you can afford it, subscribe to other, more luxurious options. It’s also a great way to invest in the development of technology. Automakers like Tesla send out tech upgrades to subscribers as that tech evolves, which is arguably much nicer than having to buy a whole new car just to have the latest driver assistance features.
It’s also not ideal for automakers to have the power to one day shut off a safety feature like lane-keep assist due to, say, a missed or incorrectly processed payment. The last thing you want is someone growing reliant on a safety feature and finding out it’s no longer available the hard way.
We’re still a ways out from this model becoming a widespread one across the automotive industry, but considering the fact that we’re already seeing it in luxury models, it might be time to start preparing for it.