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Carmakers hope to cash out on software and subscription fees, consumer advocates worry

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Posted at 5:15 AM, May 03, 2022

Subscription services have become a part of so many of our lives.

When it comes to cars, extras like satellite radio, have been around for a while.

More luxury brands have also started requiring you to pay subscription fees for things like hands-free driving assistance, or navigation features.

But now more mainstream brands could be getting on board with this as well.

Stellantis, formally Fiat Chrysler, says it plans to generate around $22 billion in annual revenue from software services and subscriptions by 2030.

“So far, most of these different add-ons has been kind of frivolous options. It's clear that automakers are looking to tie monthly payments into more basic services that you might think you should just you know, once you bought the car you get for free since you've already bought the car,” said Kevin Brasler at Consumers’ Checkbook.

The software-enabled technologies Stellantis is talking about include driver-assist features.

It’s not clear yet what could be included in the new subscriptions. But consumer advocates, including Consumers' Checkbook and Consumer Reports, worry about what could come next.

“I think it needs to be clear that automakers shouldn't tie these subscription payments into safety features. They shouldn't disable something that can make a safe and they can potentially save us lives, unless we pay an extra fee for it, and that's the big worry here,” said Brasler.

Something else Brasler says people need to watch for is how subscriptions are disclosed.

It’s typically in the papers you sign when you buy a car, but the details are buried in the fine print.

Some consumer advocates are pushing for the government to have rules all carmakers have to follow to offer subscription plans.