BMW says it will provide four years of connection to its BMW Assist emergency service on many vehicles sold in North America beginning with 2007 models.
The automaker will make the program standard for four years on the 5, 6 and 7 Series vehicles, and optional or part of the premium package on the 3 series as well as the Z4 Roadster and Coupe and the X3 and X5 Sports Activity Vehicles. The service cost has been built into the overall price of the vehicle.
The decision potentially represents about $80 million annually in retail subscription payments, based on BMW sales in 2005 of more than 337,000 vehicles in North America.
Buyers have received 12 months of the service for free as part of their BMW purchase, but until now had to decide at that point whether to continue their subscription at a cost of about $240 a year. An optional plan that allows personal connection to concierge services will remain a $120-a-year additional subscription for drivers.
Not 'a very BMW thing to do'
A BMW official said the decision was made to bolster the luxury brand's image.
"We looked at it and asked ourselves, 'What does it mean to us that we're turning off a service that could notify if the airbags were deployed in an accident?' It doesn't seem like a very BMW thing to do," said Francis Dance, manager of telematics business for BMW of North America LLC.
Dance told of the sweeping change for BMW last month during a safety panel presentation at the Telematics Update Detroit conference.
Telematics is a broad term for electronics that wirelessly connect vehicles to computerized networks to deliver safety, entertainment and information services. He said BMW dealers had been notified of the change.
'A bold move'
"Of the other major luxury brands in the U.S. that offer monitored telematics, I can't think of anybody else that does this. So it's a bold move," said telematics analyst Phil Magney, of Telematics Research Group in Minnetonka, Minn.
BMW Assist uses an embedded, car-dedicated cellular phone connection to relay emergency or diagnostic information to call centers run by ATX Group Inc., of Irving, Texas.
If airbags deploy, the call center gets a signal and notifies emergency officials by giving them the location of the vehicle.
BMW Assist also transmits maintenance data for dealership use, and can be used for driver services such as tracking a stolen vehicle or offering roadside assistance.
Gary Wallace, spokesman for ATX, confirmed the BMW commitment but declined to comment on details of the contract. He said the safety aspect of telematics appears to be gaining ground with automakers and customers.
"I think there's a lot more experience out there now. They're seeing what the feedback is and how it kind of integrates into the customer experience of the car," Wallace said.
OnStar won't match it
OnStar, a similar service that will be a standard offering on all General Motors brands, including Saab, by 2007, also offers the first 12 months of basic safety services free with a new-vehicle purchase. After the first year customers must subscribe to the basic safety service for about $204 a year.
For the most extensive OnStar service package, customers pay about $840 annually.
OnStar spokesman Keith Yaden said he knows of no plans by OnStar to match BMW's four-year safety subscription.
Tim Moran is a Detroit-area freelance writer. You may e-mail him at [email protected]