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Tesla is proposing a $199 monthly subscription for its assisted-driving system. Photo: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Car technology is changing fast — and getting more expensive. But a more affordable alternative for some buyers is subscribing only to the car features they want.

Why it matters: Automakers drool over the prospect of collecting recurring revenue from car owners, even as they roll out regular software improvements. And people who lease their vehicles, or trade them in frequently, could avoid spending thousands of dollars on cutting-edge tech they only get to use for a few years.

  • "If you can get somebody hooked on a subscription, then it's like Netflix," said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst at Guidehouse Insights. "You tend to keep paying for it whether you use the feature or not."

Driving the news: Tesla said recently it would let customers subscribe to its "Full Self-Driving" advanced driver assistance package for $199 a month, rather than paying $10,000 upfront.

The big picture: Subscription services dominate almost everything we consume today, whether it's video streaming, software or even meal kits. It's only a matter of time before mobility becomes a subscription service, too.

  • Automakers including Porsche, Volvo and GM's Cadillac brand have tried vehicle subscription schemes, with mixed success.

What's different now is that carmakers are offering subscriptions to individual features.

  • Mercedes-Benz will reportedly offer rear-wheel steering on its upcoming EQS electric sedan as a $575 annual subscription in Germany, writes The Drive.
  • BMW, which backed off a plan to charge $80 a year for Apple CarPlay, still enables certain features like heated seats and steering wheels to be unlocked via subscription fees.
  • Cadillac charges drivers $25 per month for its Super Cruise hands-free driving system after the three-year free trial expires.

What to watch: It all comes down to pricing. A survey by the automotive website Autolist found that most people were willing to pay just $11 to $25 a month for subscription features.

What they're saying: "Any given price is going to be wrong, so we'll just adjust it over time as we see the value proposition makes sense to people," Tesla CEO Elon Musk told investors this week.

  • "We need to make Full Self-Driving work in order for it to be a compelling value proposition. Otherwise, people are betting on the future."

My thought bubble: Musk's statement says as much about the state of Tesla's automated driving system as it does about the future of subscriptions.

Go deeper

Sep 7, 2021 - Technology

Ford nabs Apple Car exec in hiring coup

Outline of a car. Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Ford Motor Co. poached a senior Apple executive, Doug Field, to lead efforts to make its vehicles as smart and indispensable as the iPhone.

Why it matters: Legacy automakers like Ford need Silicon Valley's software prowess as they try to navigate a historic industrywide transformation. The electric, connected and automated cars of the future will be defined by software in the cloud — not the mechanical parts under the hood.

The intrigue: The hiring was seen as a coup for Ford and a blow to Apple, where Field had been a key player on the iPhone maker’s secret car project.

  • Rumors about the so-called Project Titan have swirled for years, but Apple has said little about the status of its automotive ambitions.
  • Field wouldn't touch the topic during a briefing with reporters.
  • "Apple doesn’t talk about new products, and I won’t talk about it either," he said. "Apple works on a lot of great things in total secrecy."

Details: In his new role, Field will be chief advanced technology and embedded systems officer, reporting to Ford President and CEO Jim Farley.

  • He will lead the development of a new cloud-based, connected-vehicle platform called Blue Oval Intelligence.
  • It will enable customers to continually update their cars with new features — as they do their phones — or to fix warranty problems without visiting a dealership.
  • And it will help create new revenue opportunities for Ford through cloud-based services that consumers want.

Background: Field is a boomerang Ford employee, having started his career there in 1987.

  • His career includes engineering responsibility for some of the world's most iconic products: the Segway scooter, Apple’s Mac computer hardware, and Tesla's Model 3.

What they're saying: "This is a watershed moment for our company — Doug has accomplished so much,” Farley told reporters. “This is just a monumental moment in time that we have now to really remake a 118-year-old company.”

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
3 hours ago - Science

All-civilian Inspiration4 is back on Earth after flight to space

A side-by-side of the Inspiration4 crew and a shot of their capsule on the way back to Earth. Photo: SpaceX

The all-civilian Inspiration4 crew is back on Earth after their three-day mission in orbit.

The big picture: The launch and landing of this fully amateur, private space crew marks a changing of the guard from spaceflight being a largely government-led venture to being under the purview of private companies.

28 U.S. citizens depart Afghanistan on Qatar Airways flight

Passengers board a Qatar Airways aircraft bound to Qatar at the airport in Kabul on September 10, 2021. Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department on Saturday confirmed that a Qatar Airways charter flight left Kabul on Friday with 28 U.S. citizens and seven lawful permanent residents on board.

The big picture: Friday's flight is the third such airlift by Qatar Airways since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, AP reports.

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