Mercedes-Benz Will Increase The Performance Of Its EVs If You Pay An Annual Fee

Controversial idea for North American market angers customers

Since the 1980s, electronic systems have been slowly taking control of the car and with electric vehicles (EVs), there is the feeling that cars have become ‘computers on wheels’. And as we move slowly towards autonomous motoring when a car can operate itself without human control, the computer will have taken over everything (shades of ‘Skynet’!).

Like the computer or smartphone you use daily, the electronic systems in cars operate with software that has millions of lines of code. As microprocessors have quickly improved in capacity and speed, the software has become more sophisticated and able to handle many different processes simultaneously – at speeds fast enough to activate the brakes if a collision is imminent.

In recent years, some companies have also started to incorporate into the software ‘paywalls’ that restrict certain features until a code is provided by the car owner. The approach is the same as what the computer software industry has been doing for decades. For example, if you purchase or renew Kaspersky’s anti-virus software, you will need to pay them and then get a code which will allow activation or renewal of the software. If you don’t, the software will either deactivate or have reduced functionality and make your device more vulnerable to virus attacks.

With so many electronic systems managing numerous functions, cars are becoming increasingly regarded as just ‘computers on wheels’.

Another way of making more money?
Some carmakers have seen this idea as offering an additional revenue channel, perhaps suggesting it as a ‘choice for customers’ to take or not. The problem is that car-buyers are not used to this and expect that when they pay the asking price, they get all the features that the car comes with. There has never been (in the past) a situation where features are ‘locked’ and only available when paid for.

Of course, the manufacturers will say this is no different from options to personalize a car. Customers have long been able to have some flexibility in choosing certain items they want with their car, eg a better audio system. What is different now is that instead of the options being physically installed, they are merely ‘unlocked’ through the operating system on board.

Slowly becoming industry trend
The trend has already started where German manufacturers have offered additional convenience or safety features which can be made available by paying subscription fees. So a customer can have remote starting or ventilated seats – if they want it, and they can have it for a month or a year or whatever the subscription plan offers.

But while it is up to owners to choose, some of the features are expected as standard and not charged extra for. In 2019, BMW thought of charging owners to have Apple CarPlay on their infotainment system but when word got out about the plan, there was a lot of negative feedback that the company decided not to do it.

Mercedes me connect Store
Mercedes-Benz offers extra features through its Mercedes me connect Store which is also available to owners in Malaysia. While the basic services (ie essential safety and maintenance services as well as vehicle data already available) will remain free indefinitely, the store offers owners additional personalization features such as digital services and innovative enhancements, if they want to have them.

Subscribing to the Navigation Package for RM608 a year will enhance the digital maps and enhance route guidance as well.

Owners can subscribe for a year or up to 3 years to have the extra features. For example, there is a Navigation Package which provides enhanced route guidance and features like 3D mapping and a revolutionary voice control with natural speech. There’s also an Individualization Package for RM400 a year which enhances the sound experience and also offers Mini Games.

Pay to ‘unlock’ better performance
Most people won’t really complain about such offerings but what has upset Mercedes-Benz EV owners lately has been a restriction on the performance of the car if a subscription fee is not paid. This applies to the EQ range which is all the electrically-powered models. By paying extra money, the owner can enjoy quicker acceleration as the output of the electric motors is increased by 20% to 24%.

For the EQS 450 4MATIC, for example, the output can be boosted from 265 kW to 330 kW which will enable the car to go from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds instead of 5.3 seconds. On its website offering the option, it says this: “Acceleration Increase boosts this performance even further – electronically increasing the motor’s output also increases the torque significantly, giving you a faster 0-to-60 mph time. Acceleration power you can feel.’

For US$1,200 (RM5,400) a year, the owner of a Mercedes-EQ EQS can enjoy stronger acceleration.

How much does Mercedes-Benz want for letting you enjoy quicker acceleration with its EVs? US$1,200 a year, which is equal to about RM5,400. They are probably counting on owners getting used to the extra performance that they don’t want to go back to something less quick after 12 months. So just as they pay for subscriptions to other services or to their golf club, so too will they have to pay Mercedes-Benz annually as long as they have the car.

This move has been controversial and angers EV owners who feel that the cars have a higher level of performance but Mercedes-Benz deliberately reduced it so that it could make extra money by ‘selling extra power’. Perhaps the carmaker might argue that customers have no problem paying huge sums of money to tuners to modify their engines so what’s the difference here? The difference would be that the modified engine with the extra performance is permanent, so to speak, and does not require payments in future to deliver the extra performance.

Electric powertrain of the EQS 450 generates 265 kW when purchased but subscribing to the proposed ‘Acceleration Increase’ plan for a year can boost that output to 330 kW.

At this time, the subscription plan known as ‘Acceleration Increase’ is soon to be available only in North America, and only for the EV models. There is no indication of whether it will be offered in other regions alongside other features in the Mercedes me connect Store.

The idea of customers being able to pay for additional features is not a bad one – if it saves them money during their initial purchase. Over time, they can ‘upgrade’ their EV and subscribe for a year to enjoy extra comfort or convenience. However, improved performance should not be in the list of post-purchase options where you have to keep paying annually to maintain it.