The Cult of Cars, Racing and Everything That Moves You.
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No, A Car Subscription Service Is Not Like Spotify

Toyota, I will not be paying more money for a remote start. I refuse.

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Photo: PHILIP FONG/AFP (Getty Images)

Every time I see the news that Toyota is adding a subscription fee to use its remote start feature or that Tesla will charge owners to use technology they already bought, I get angrier. The absolute audacity. I refuse to buy into this concept, where you spend tens of thousands of dollars on a product only to find out that, in addition to your monthly payment, you’ll also be racking up additional charges to, I don’t know, use the dual-zone climate control you already thought you bought.

I can’t wrap my head around it. I’ve seen people playing Devil’s Advocate on this one, arguing that we already live in a world of subscriptions and post-purchase downloadable content. Sure. I get it. I can see where you’re coming from. But you’re wrong.

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Let me provide an example. I paid $3,000 for a new MacBook Pro when I accidentally gave mine a bath. I also pay for services like Photoshop on top of what I already paid for the laptop. I pay a monthly fee for Spotify. I pay for extra cloud storage as opposed to having bought an external hard drive because I’m rarely ever in one place.

I’m going to argue, though, that this is nowhere near the same thing as what, say, Toyota is proposing with its remote start fee. There are fundamental differences. The subscription services on my laptop are a cherry on top of an already-functional product. It’s the equivalent of upgrading your car’s stereo system or buying fancy seat covers. It’s a fee paid for other services to personalize the experience you have already paid money for.

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But if I had to pay a fee to use my MacBook’s fingerprint recognition, I would be pissed. If I had to pay to use its built-in notes app, I would be outraged.

A car is not like the various other forms of technology we use in our life. A new car is the second-most expensive purchase most folks will make in their life, after a house. Can you imagine if you rocked up to your brand-new house and realized you have to pay a fee to access the living room? You’re already paying for utilities and trash service and Wi-Fi every month. And now that you have your keys, you find out that you don’t actually own that fancy deadbolt on your door until you pay another five dollars per month.

I can understand paying for SiriusXM, which is an outside service added to a car to provide an enjoyable experience that I can opt into if I choose. I don’t like it, but I can understand it. I cannot understand Toyota building cars capable of certain features that have already been somewhat optional thanks to varying trims and then continuing to charge you more for the use of those services. If I opt to spend $1,500 more on a car trim so that I can start my car remotely, I will not be paying another undetermined sum per month to actually start that car remotely.

The only way this even kinda-sorta makes sense is if all cars are sold in a single trim whose specific features you can activate if you want to use them. But even then, you’re testing my patience, because you’re making cars that could have these features and still charging people more to use them.

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Sure, I pay my monthly fee for Spotify. I pay for Netflix. But these are not two services that specifically only come available to me through a different purchase I’ve already spent tens of thousands of dollars on. I wasn’t marketed my laptop on the basis of it being Spotify-capable, only to find out that the fine print says, oops, yeah, you have to pay more for it. I didn’t sign up for a years-long financing plan on my house only to find out that it’s going to cost an extra fee to use the yard. I wouldn’t even buy the smart water heater when I replaced mine because it required an extra fee for connected services. I’m already shelling out a lot of money for a water heater along with a monthly payment to get that water. Hell no. If this thing comes with a phone app that lets me control it while I’m away, then let me control it. Don’t make me pay $30 a month for the pleasure.