Over the summer, BMW finally backed down on its heated seat subscription program from sheer public outrage and bad press. This response apparently hasn't deterred its rival Audi, however, as the German car company plans to make more new software features paid options on its next generation of vehicles.
Pioneered on the E-Tron and E-Tron Sportback, Audi offers over-the-air features through its myAudi app, adding functions like automated parking or lock-unlock light animations. To borrow a term from the gaming world, they're microtransactions writ large to milk more money from customers. It's like horse armor but for your car. Audi's board rep for technical development Oliver Hoffmann has told Autocar that more "on demand" features like these are on their way.
"With our next generation of electronic architecture, we will bring more offers to 'function on demand' and you will see year by year we will bring new functions in the cars," Hoffman told the outlet, claiming it's a response to customer demand. "This is a [big] step. I think there is a demand from the customer to bring new functions in the car, and this is a profit pool for us—but we don't see these revenue pools with this kind of functionality."
Hoffmann reportedly wouldn't say which features are coming, but was adamant that paid, downloadable features will be "quite normal in the future." Which features exactly may be previewed by Audi itself, which already paywalls some climate control functions in some markets. Other automakers, from Honda to Toyota and Cadillac could also set expectations for what Audi may monetize.
Paid software features are anticipated to become a major revenue stream for the automotive industry in years to come. Stellantis, for example, expects $22.5 billion in income from software features by 2030. However, owners themselves are pushing back, and in some cases have unlocked features for free by jailbreaking their cars.
Carmakers are clear that they won't back down on paywalling new features, even though the vast majority of customers don't want to pay for subscription services in their cars. But it's hard to get blood from a stone, and when prices seem to leap with every passing month, something's gonna give—and it might not be customers' wallets.
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