Unlocking New Potential: How Technology Is Changing The Future of Car Keys

It’s a tired and hackneyed narrative—misplacing your car keys was, perhaps, at one time comical due solely to its universal relatability, but today it seems a holdout from a more primitive time. After all, humans can figure out brain surgery and can send their fellow man into outer space, but we’re still stranded every time we set our keys down somewhere unexpected? Perhaps not for long.

Believe it or not, car keys had already undergone massive evolution by the early 2000s when GM first offered remote start as a standard feature on its key fobs, but things have changed so materially in the last 10 years that it’s hard to see those days as anything but antiquated. Now, as technology continues to forge ahead, new methods of unlocking vehicles may become standard sooner than you might imagine.

A Potentially Keyless Future

Many new models from major automotive manufacturers utilize push start; in these vehicles, so long as the “key” is inside the car, the vehicle will start. The term key here must be qualified because these are not the serrated metal items classically thought of as keys; they’re closer to the key fobs of the ‘90s and 2000s.

However, even this push-start technology is not where the buck stops with tech advancements as they relate to keys in the auto industry. Different manufacturers have different ideas about how to make the experience more seamless for drivers, but one of the most popular options is smartphone integration.

Manufacturers like Tesla, GM, Volvo, and Lincoln allow users to use their smartphones as keys, even controlling extra features like remote start from these handheld devices. This solves the long-standing issue of losing one’s keys, since practically everyone in modern society is attached to their phone 24/7. Of course, these manufacturers provide backup keys (such as keycards) for when drivers’ smartphones die.

Other carmakers, like Hyundai, aim to take tools and devices out of the process entirely by using biometric technology that starts a car’s engine with just a fingerprint scan. Though Santa Fe’s with this technology were only rolled out in China starting in late 2018, it seems likely the trend will spread to the rest of the world.

For now, most manufacturers still provide some sort of semi-traditional key along with a new car, but it’s hard to know for sure whether that will continue, or if it is just a bridge to phasing out the use of keys in the automotive industry entirely.

Staggering Statistics Point to Overarching Change

In 2014, a little over 70% of new vehicles had keyless ignition as part of their optional equipment; in 2019, that rate jumped to more than 90%. While the industry may not be giving up on keys entirely just yet, it’s clear that consumers are interested in integrating their vehicles into their lives as seamlessly as possible, and traditional keys are falling by the wayside.

As technology continues to progress, it’s hard to tell whether keys will come standard at all with new vehicles another five years down the road. 

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