Don’t worry, Microsoft, Oracle and IBM. That BMW you see in your rear-view mirror isn’t coming after your maintenance business

why bmw is never going to threaten microsoft or apple, or carmakers stink at software

When I first bought my 330i with the notorious iDrive (which, by the way, is very, very cool), I was stuck by the fact that the car seemed to be less a mechanical device than a digital one with wheels. That impression has only been confirmed over the last three years as the car has needed just three oils changes but half a dozen reprogrammings. When the car is reprogrammed, it takes the dealer more than a day and, if it crashes, not only does it have to be restarted, but the frakkin’ car (what am I going to do when Battlestar Galactica ends??) won’t even start until the entire image is properly downloaded. OK, I gotta admit I think that’s kinda cool, especially when the dealer does it on his nickel and you get a BMW loaner to drive for two days.

But that isn’t what’s pissed me off. What gets my goat is that for the last three years, each reprogramming has added new functionality. The dealer doesn’t know what’s in the new release of E90 software. BMW keeps it a secret. They seem to see this as service and not as a benefit to owners. We upgrade our computers, why doesn’t BMW encourage us to update our cars?

Want some examples? Here’s partial list of functionality that’s been added to my car over the several reprogrammings it has had:

  • MP3 was added to the CD player
  • Color schemes in the graphics display were changed
  • iDrive performance was improved
  • A new automatic ventilation program was added to the climate control
  • New commands were added to the voice control system
  • Mileage has improved by about 3%

So, what am I bitching about? Simple: if I didn’t have these things done under warranty repairs, I’d have never received them. Dealers won’t upgrade the car on request; you have to have a warranty problem. Plus, they have no idea what’s in these updates; they simply apply them when instructed to solve a problem — even a problem that has nothing to do with the lack of functionality provided in the updates. BMW never makes the list of enhancements public. My question is: why?

Think of the revenue stream from upgrades from people who own a 2006 model which, when produced, didn’t have a timer to start the ventilation system on hot days, but which through the magic of software can be made to have it. (This actually happened in my last update and I had to download a manual for a 2007 model to figure out how it works!)

I know why BMW is the best brand in the world. But nothing’s perfect…I suspect it’s more than a little German to keep adding functionality to older products but keep it a secret. Oracle, IBM and Microsoft people: sleep well tonight. BMW isn’t about to steal your maintenance agreements.






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