How far will the industry take subscription features?

Tim Camm warns that the new feature subscription model could threaten driver safety

The automotive industry is often a place of innovation, where car manufacturers explore new designs, new features, and new ways of transporting individuals from A to B in comfort and style. Recent years have seen an explosion of innovation in the industry, particularly in the introduction of advanced driver safety systems (ADAS), which are now increasingly common and can save lives. However, as with the introduction of any new technology, there is still some debate about how ADAS is regulated and managed, and there are growing concerns that the rising popularity of a subscription-based model within the industry could limit the number of drivers who can utilise this potentially lifesaving technology.

The introduction of new technologies means most modern vehicles now rely on an electronic control unit (ECU) and software-based technology to transfer information and ensure the vehicle’s features are operating correctly. This also allows car manufacturers to easily add new features or patch problems remotely with over-the-air software updates. Car brands have identified that this also presents an opportunity for further profitability by selling monthly subscriptions for certain car features.

Subscription model will soon dominate the automotive industry… as manufacturers look for new revenue streams to fund their autonomous vehicle plans

This subscription model is not a problem within itself. Manufacturers have initially focused on deploying optional upgrades via subscription to what is considered as comfort-based systems, such as heated seating or voice recognition systems. These systems can make a journey more pleasant for driver and passenger but are not essential parts of the vehicle. If the driver decided they no longer wanted heated seats, they would simply cancel the monthly subscription and could continue using the vehicle safely—albeit slightly colder.

However, such a trend raises the question of how far the industry is willing to go with these subscriptions, and whether we would eventually see a situation where drivers are asked to pay more for safety features in cars. There are currently no direct safety-related systems available through an optional subscriber system in the industry. But this will become more likely if automotive businesses continue seeing these subscriber models as a better chance of monetisation.

BMW offers owners a subscription option for heated seats

Safety should be a right for all, not something that comes as an add-on with an extra cost. As the cost-of-living continues to bite, drivers are less likely to want to spend more on newer cars, let alone paying a subscription for a car feature they may not feel they need. If safety systems in vehicles become more expensive through the subscription model, it’s only natural that people may be less inclined to use them, putting the driver at greater risk and limiting the technology’s ability to improve road safety.

From an aftermarket perspective, the wider uptake of the subscription model could make it more complicated for an independent garage to diagnose a vehicle. Without clear data and information on every car they come across, it will be a challenge for independent garages to correctly diagnose what features are in use in a vehicle and what is not in use. This will likely delay how long a car needs to spend in the garage, adding extra pressure to the current backlogs and increasing the possibility of failed MOTs.

While there are certainly concerns about the subscription model, there are some regulations in place which can protect safety systems. Recent European legislation stated that from 2024 all new cars must be fitted with certain ADAS systems such as lane keeping assistance (LKA). It will therefore be a legal requirement for cars to have these systems available, preventing manufacturers from adding them to a subscription model.

The rising popularity of a subscription-based model within the industry could limit the number of drivers who can utilise this potentially lifesaving technology

If manufacturers want to apply the subscription model to the ADAS systems sitting within this legislation, this will only be possible in the form of upgrading an existing sensor to include other functions. For instance, LKA currently runs from a windscreen-mounted camera, and while this always needs to be operational, the subscriber model could be used to upgrade the software to allow the camera to provide fewer essential systems, such as traffic signs recognition.

Industry analysts expect that the subscription model will soon dominate the automotive industry, from car features to car ownership, as manufacturers look for new revenue streams to fund their autonomous vehicle plans. Autoglass has been working with Belron Technical and Bosch to track the subscriber updates and how they will affect the aftermarket. If these subscriber models are to become more common, aftermarket providers should be given fair access to vehicle systems to enable them to identify and diagnose the subscribed systems and those which are not in use.

Subscriber models are an interesting development in the world of automotive financing, but the whole industry should be wary of introducing them beyond comfort-based systems. Road safety should always be a priority for those involved in the automotive sector, and we should be looking to remove the barriers of access to safety technology, not adding more.


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

Tim Camm, Technical Training Manager, Autoglass

The Automotive World Comment column is open to automotive industry decision makers and influencers. If you would like to contribute a Comment article, please contact editorial@automotiveworld.com

 

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