The future of motor vehicle ownership includes subscription payments for online services

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Subscriptions are everywhere. You’re getting used to them, because Netflix, Spotify, PSN or Xbox Live Gold all seem like cool things to have. Hopefully that works for you, because the ‘feature’ is coming to cars as well. Which… makes a strange kind of sense if you stop to think about it.

Coming soon now

Cars as a service is a thing that has been coming for quite some time. Volvo’s Polestar, for instance, launched as part of a subscription service. But we’re also seeing more or less conventional car sales get subscription services tacked onto what used to be a one-and-done purchase (not including your service plan and whatever extras the salesperson convinced you were essential).

That’s the case with auto-maker GM (who, you might recall, recently left South Africa). In the States, General Motors’ Cadillac marque has a driver-assist technology called Super Cruise. This feature enables more accurate usage of the ability to set cruise control and stay in a specific lane, via frequently-updated maps that cover about 320,000km of American highways. It also controls the feature that uses a camera to keep an eye on the driver — to make sure they’re paying attention. It’s a cool feature — not quite self-driving but certainly something you’d get used to having.

Here’s the thing. It was only recently spotted (proving that nobody, anywhere, ever reads the fine print) that Super Cruise is sold with a new Cadillac as a three-year trial. After that, a monthly subscription to America’s OnStar is needed to keep the function running. The thing is, right now nobody knows what that subscription is going to cost — it’s only supposed to kick in from September this year (the first vehicles with the ‘trial’ were sold in 2018). More than a few American drivers are going to wind up asking questions about why the feature — which was doubtless a selling point of the car — has been whipped away unless they start paying extra.

Makes sense, still sucks

It makes a sort of sense. Super Cruise is a feature that requires constant updates, which means servers and an in-car internet connection are needed to support it. That has to be paid for, somehow, but not building it into the vehicle price comes across as a little dishonest.

GM, speaking to MotorTrend, have said that (at least parts of) the feature will continue to work even if an OnStar subscription isn’t purchased —  adaptive cruise control and lane-centering features will still function. But the extra bits of Super Cruise may just stop working, if drivers don’t opt for the subscription.

But you can expect more of this from auto manufacturers — connected features that may work for a time before they begin charging extra for the luxury of frequent updates, smarter driving technologies and other ‘non-essential’ drivers assists. Again, it’s a logical jump but how it’s advertised to drivers will matter. If a subscription-based service is also being sold as an optional extra, you’d expect it to be covered by that initial price for the lifetime of the vehicle, unless stated otherwise. Whether car makers are stating otherwise, though… that’ll make all the difference to how these changes are received by users.

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