The Mercedes-Benz EQS has a paywall that wants you to pay to unlock more features of the car. Imagine that!
Imagine paying top dollar (Ringgit? Euro? Dogecoin?) for a brand new top-of-the-line fully electric flagship limousine from Mercedes-Benz, only to find out that certain features have been locked away behind yet another paywall? That's exactly what was first uncovered by German publication Auto Motor und Sport.
Worse? That said feature will cost you 490 Euros (roughly RM2,450) to unlock each year. Essentially, you will be subscribing to access features already present in a car that you already paid for, allowing automakers like Mercedes-Benz to indefinitely milk you for money.
Think about that. And then think about how scummy and anti-consumer that really is, and then think about how much scope there will be for even more manipulative actions to be taken along the same lines by less scrupulous manufacturers if this becomes a common practice.
Degrees Of Denial
In the Mercedes-Benz EQS, each example comes with rear-axle steering, meaning that every unit has the same mechanical components for this function from the factory. However, this system is limited by software to only articulate by a maximum of 4.5 degrees.
Its actual limit is actually a full 10 degrees, which will give the EQS a narrower turning circle and potentially make the car more agile through the corners, but for which you’ll have the option of paying an extra RM2,450 for every year to enjoy.
Don’t want to pay every 12 months? Is that too inconvenient? In that case, Mercedes-Benz will happily let you pay for 3 years at a time for a single payment of 1,169 Euros (RM5,850) - just to unlock the full 10 degrees of steering articulation at the rear axle. What the actual ****.
You might argue that RM2.4k each year or RM5.8k every 3 years is barely a blip on the financial radar for someone who would be spending over a million Ringgit on their electric super-luxury limousine, but if we turn a blind eye to this, pretty soon we’ll be seeing automakers start to sell us our cars in pieces, and probably for even more money at the end of the day. Before you know it, even seatbelts will be behind a paywall.
You might feel disconnected from this first world problem right now but make no mistake, this is the start of a dangerous trend for the automotive industry. And it’s one that’s been building momentum for some time now as cars get more and more digitised and dependent on electronics.
This Has Happened Before. Many Times
At first, buyers of performance cars would be presented with a vehicle that could easily sail past 300km/h but, unless they pay to have the limiter removed, will run into a software-built wall at 250km/h. It was frustrating, but not enough to cause a massive uproar.
Then, more occurrences of this started to crop up. BMW famously made buyers in certain markets pay annually to use Apple’s CarPlay smartphone interfacing feature on their iDrive infotainment systems despite Apple not charging automakers to support it.
This, at time when even Honda Civics and other mass-market cars were equipping it as standard without asking another penny from you. That was a cash grab from BMW, plain and simple.
In 2016, Tesla pulled a similar but larger-scale stunt with the Model S 70, where the car would be fitted with a battery capable of holding 75kWh of charge but only making 70kWh available unless the owner paid an extra $250 for access to that 5kWh.
In 2017, Model S buyers who chose the cheaper 60kWh capacity found out that their cars too came with that same 75kWh battery, albeit artificially limited via software to only show 15kWh less, equivalent to about 50km in inaccessible driving range.
This Will Get Worse With Electric Vehicles
In plain facts, as we move away from internal combustion and into the EV-era, automakers will become even more inclined to resort to these kinds of underhanded and anti-consumer practices as the vehicles themselves don’t allow for revenue generation in their familiar ways.
Because electric vehicles are much less mechanically complex with only a handful of moving parts, the long-term revenue prospect from after-sales and repairs is significantly reduced - no more frequent fluid changes and scheduled maintenance packages to uphold your warranty, fewer surprise parts replacements.
Consequently, they will have to find alternative ways to milk your wallet after you’ve paid for the car. This is one of them.
Deliberately cutting out features or limiting their use is a simple move on their part, putting down a few lines of code or less in the onboard system controller. You are deprived of features already put in place but are locked out behind an arbitrary paywall fuelled entirely by greed.
Because all our cars will be connected to the internet, this software ‘access’ won’t cost the automaker anything to enable, there are no parts to install and very little labour involved, and the vehicle did not cost any more to manufacture. It’s the perfect scam.
For now, they're mostly harmless like in the Mercedes-Benz, but I hope you see how this can be so easily exploited in the future. Hopefully, informed car buyers will see past any PR nonsense they spew to justify denying us features in a car we already paid handsomely for.
Believe me, we’ll start seeing many more similar cases of these bait-and-switch tactics as more legacy manufacturers start morphing into EV makers. The floodgates are open and the EQS was only just the beginning.
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