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Locking it Down: New Jersey bill seeks to limit OEM ability to lock features under subscription

New Jersey, United States — A bill in front of New Jersey’s state assembly is weighing  propositions prohibiting OEMs from locking certain vehicle features under subscription packages, with sponsors calling out “business practices that primarily serve to increase corporate profits.”

Assemblymen Paul D. Moriarty (District 4) and Joe Danielsen (District 17) are looking to make it illegal for automakers who sell or lease in New Jersey to charge ongoing fees for features that function “without ongoing expense to the dealer, manufacturer, or any third-party service provider.”

This new policy push comes after certain OEMs introduced subscription models to limit user access to certain built-in features.

In July, BMW faced criticism and a wave of retaliatory hacking, following the announcement that certain digital features like heated seats would be made exclusive to owners who pay a monthly fee to the manufacturer.

Part of Moriarty and Danielsen’s goal is to prevent automakers from electronically locking owners out of features that their vehicle is otherwise physically equipped with.

The pair wrote in their statement that “car companies are increasingly seeking to charge consumers a subscription fee to access certain features on their vehicles, such as heated seats, even though the components necessary for the feature to function are already installed on the vehicle at the time of sale.”

While “Car companies assert that a subscription-based business model would provide more choice to the consumer,” the statement reads, “the practice requires installing all of the necessary components and hardware on the vehicle before the consumer decides to subscribe to the feature, which will likely raise the purchase price for every consumer, whether they intend to subscribe to the feature or not.”

Following the backlash incurred from the heated seats announcement, BMW clarified its position on subscriptions, tweeting that “Drivers in the U.S. do not have to pay a subscription for heated seats or for any other options ordered at time of purchase.”

“BMW Functions on Demand is a program that does offer premium options, like BMW Drive Recorder and Remote Engine Start, via software updates. Based on vehicle compatibility, customers can purchase a trial of these features, then decide if they want to purchase a feature outright.”

The full statement presented to the New Jersey State Assembly can be found here.

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