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Volkswagen eyes subscriptions, on-demand autonomous tech in future cars

Could a future self-driving mode be pay-to-play? Perhaps.

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Subscriptions may take to the open road one day.

Volkswagen

You're probably already subscribed to numerous service that touch so many elements of daily life, but are you ready for in-car subscriptions? They're already happening in some ways to unlock features you may not need all the time, but Volkswagen thinks it might be a smart strategy for future autonomous driving technologies.

Speaking to Top Gear in an interview published Wednesday, VW's head of marketing and sales Klaus Zellmer said he can foresee a system in which drivers don't pay for the technology upfront. The positive behind this thinking is the price of a new car wouldn't climb into the stratosphere, noting any prototype self-driving technology today can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Rather than pass that cost onto new car buyers, Zellmer said it might make more sense to simply unlock the function when the driver wants it.

Say you're preparing for a long road trip. Maybe for a preconfirmed stint of the trip, you pay VW to unlock a safe, self-driving feature for that duration. Zellmer said early calculations show a rate of 7 euros (about $8.40) an hour would probably help the automaker make a profit and provide drivers with the tech. The question is, would drivers feel comfortable spending that much for the tech, especially if they're already paying tolls? It becomes a little more complex noting many drivers aren't always driving a full hour on the freeway. It'd be pretty cumbersome to unlock the function every time you're ready to drive 30 minutes or so. The automaker didn't immediately return a request for comment on Zellmer's remarks.

The future's hardly set in stone, but increasingly, this sort of subscription-focused mindset continues to crop up in automakers' strategies. BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi are ready to embrace it when it comes to buying equipment a previous owner didn't want, for example. It's certainly not our favorite trend, that's for sure, but maybe it's a reasonable way of defraying the costs of any future autonomous tech.