iPhone on wheels? AI-generated image
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Tesla launched the OTA update. Updates for cars? What did the long-gone BMW Board Member for Development Klaus Fröhlich say back in 2019? Cars are not iPhones on wheels.

Well, yes. Tesla’s update policy is based on the update policy of computer companies. It is also common for many new features to be added with regular free OS updates. Apple’s Macs, iPhones, and iPads are constantly improving in this way. The result? Customers are happy, stay with the brand, and only upgrade their hardware when these updates are no longer supported.

(Note: feature enhancement for the light of the latest Teslas)

Classic OEMs

In the past, classic car manufacturers attached little importance to the operating system. Many embedded systems from different suppliers were used. There were updates for a few functions, but these were carried out by the workshop, if at all. Many people have grudgingly experienced several hours of updates being added to the bill.

An update at VW, Mercedes & Co. is much more complicated because the old vehicle architecture generally did not allow for this—which is why they are working feverishly on their own operating systems. On the other hand, new BEVs should be able to handle OTA updates for competitive reasons, but OEMs such as VW have only recently started to do so. Some manufacturers, therefore, simply buy the OS from Google, for example, and simply adapt it, as we know from Android.

The extras

Anyone who buys a German premium electric car or premium combustion engine will certainly have fond memories of the online configurator. It has already caused legions of potential buyers to give up. The sentence: “Only works in conjunction with …” has become an absolute no-go for many.

Moreover, German premium manufacturers can easily add the financial equivalent of a small car to their already expensive vehicles.

In the meantime, Tesla and many Chinese brands are celebrating all-round equipment. The only extra charges are for different rims, a different color and special gimmicks such as a trailer hitch. That’s usually it.

Appearance: the micro subscription

However, the classic car manufacturers are all the more innovative in other areas. They invented the subscription. We’re not talking about car subscriptions or monthly internet costs here, but rather about nasty extras such as heated seats, Apple’s CarPlay (BMW), dual-zone automatic air conditioning (Audi), or 1024 different ambient lighting systems (VW – the benefits of which are beyond me).

(Note: Rant on the switch to the subscription model for automatic climate control)

In the past, BMW tried to make the free CarPlay provided by Apple subject to a surcharge, with an annual renewal costing around 300 euros. This did not go down very well with the clientele, so BMW simply saved themselves the money. It’s worth noting that the CarPlay system was already standard, even in low-cost vehicles from other manufacturers.

Then, a different goal was pursued: monthly subscription fees were introduced. As it is now cheaper to install many extras at the same time, a resourceful marketing strategist came up with a brilliant idea: you could charge a monthly “activation fee” for the extras that are installed but not booked – after all, this works just as well with the software.

The curtailment of functions

Even more annoying is the curtailment of functions. With an Austrian motorcycle manufacturer, everything is included in the premium models. Even things you didn’t order. After a certain period of time, the extras are switched off. The customer would then have to pay to keep the sport mapping on the drive or the heated grips working, for example. Quite out of place for motorcycles that now cost well over 25,000 euros.

The new subscription pandemic has gone down badly with customers. People are already mocking it on social media. And it puts the classic OEMs in a feeble light, as the vehicle prices of Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and the like are far higher than those of Chinese, Korean, and Musk vehicles, even in the bare-bones version.

Is the micro subscription a good idea? I very much doubt it. But it is a fantastic way to drive customers mad.