Car manufacturers do not allow the customer to access the full potential of their car, this is not new either. In the 1960s, the American automobile market was so competitive that automakers released updated models every year. There could be new paint and trim colors, and there would always be more performance. They achieved this by building, say, a 300hp engine but adding baffles and restrictors and maybe a smaller carburetor to set it at 250hp, which would be the launch engine setting. Then, each subsequent model year, they removed one of the restrictions, gaining power each time.
Today the same thing is happening, just in a modern way. “When the Nissan GTR was launched it had around 480 hp, and the final editions had around 560 hp,” says Litchfield. “All Nissan did was keep increasing the turbo, 0.1 bar at a time. They would say the exhaust or an intercooler was changed and they might be slightly different, but it was really the boost that gave the lift. Sometimes it’s even simpler than that. “If someone contacts me wanting to tune their Audi R8 or Mercedes C63 AMG, the first thing I ask them , that’s whether it’s an R8 Plus or a C63 S. They’ve throttled the power of the non-Plus R8s and non-S C63s simply by only giving those models 60 percent acceleration. Probably the easiest performance upgrade ever.
However, retrospective tuning activity has been evolving since diesel scandal, says Litchfield, and it could also impact aftermarket feature hacks. “Before, with a Bosch engine ECU (electronic control unit), there were three ways to get in, so if Bosch changed the password on one, you still had two more. Since discovering the code of emissions neutralization that led to Dieselgate, Bosch created ECUs that can only be accessed using encrypted keys.The latest BMW M cars are among the first to use these new ECUs.
The other issue is with over-the-air updates. The modern, connected car is in contact with the factory to receive updates for satellite navigation and the like. In theory, its ECU and enabled features could also be reset to factory specs, overwriting any engine tweaks or option unlocks that didn’t come through the manufacturer or its subscription service.
But what about the BMW heated seats subscription? Check the specs of the most affordable BMWs and you’ll find that only a few lack standard heated seats. Meanwhile, if you tick the box for a heated steering wheel on a Series 1, it’ll cost just £150 ($180), compared to £150 for a three-year retrospective subscription.
Since the announcement of the heated seats, BMW UK released a statement: “The ConnectedDrive Store in the UK offers customers the option of adding selected features that they did not order when the vehicle was built. This feature is especially useful for second owners, as they now have the ability to add features that the original owner did not choose… Drivers can also experience a feature by activating a short term trial before purchasing. commit to a full purchase.
It’s possible BMW is evaluating what it can charge for, or maybe it sees this as the first step in normalizing the idea of paying for hardware and software features. Some predict that in the future we won’t own cars, but we will have a car subscription that allows us to have a proper everyday car and ask for a bigger one for long journeys, holidays, etc., or a sports car for fun. That’s when the idea of choosing and paying for only the features you want doesn’t seem so wrong.