“Mobility needs are evolving and so are our customers’ expectation to access cars in an uncomplicated way,” said Henrik Green, vice president of product strategy and vehicle line management at Volvo Car Group.
Volvo’s S90 makes even a key fob an option, the big sedan otherwise relying on the owner’s smartphone to serve as a key, at least as long as the motorist has downloaded the necessary app. Approach the car and it links up to the phone by Bluetooth, unlocking its doors when the motorist touches one of the handles.
BMW, meanwhile, uses a similar approach with the newly redesigned 2019 3 Series. In this case, however, it uses near-field communications, or NFC, technology, similar to what underlies smartphone-based financial transaction services like Apple Pay. The system can be shared with as many as five different drivers.
BMW isn’t ready to abandon keys, or at least key fobs, entirely. The latest version of its flagship 7 Series sedan features an oversized key fob that incorporates a reconfigurable display that allows an owner to control a wide range of vehicle functions that couldn’t be incorporated into a traditional fob with hard buttons.
The push to move away from conventional car keys comes at the same time automakers are loading up vehicles with all sorts of digitally controlled technologies. Wireless fobs, smartphone apps and biometric sensors can all tell the vehicle precisely which motorist is going to be driving, adjusting such things as seats, mirrors, climate control and even which radio station to tune to.