BMW: ‘We Don’t Need No Stinking Keys’

By Christian Stampfer on 19 September 2017
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MUNICH—The first ignition keys were introduced by Chrysler in 1949, although car doors required keys prior to that time. Early innovations in car keys included jackknife-like flip keys and keys with elaborate marque’s logos on them. Starting in the mid-1990s, cars began to come with transponder keys, programmed to allow only a specific vehicle to start.

Fast forward to the early 2000s when automakers such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz introduced keyless entry and keyless start, a feature the Bavarian automaker called Comfort Access and Mercedes calls Keyless Go. More recently, with the advent of smartphones, drivers began to be able to lock and unlock doors with their phones as well as remotely start the car. Today, the key never needs to leave the driver’s pocket in order to unlock or start the vehicle.

Clearly, it may not even be necessary for automakers to hand out something called a key anymore, even though some of today’s keys are becoming smartphone like, with small displays such as what BMW offers on the 7 Series and i8.

Indeed, BMW doesn’t necessarily view the humble car key as something buyers may require. Ian Robertson, a member of the automaker’s board of management responsible for BMW brand sales, said in an interview with the Reuters news service that the Bavarian carmaker is reviewing whether keys are necessary equipment.

Robertson noted the prevalence of smartphones and the BMW Connected app that allows drivers to unlock and start their vehicles.

“Honestly, how many people really need it?” Robertson said in the interview, noting that many keys are never taken out of the driver’s pocket. “Why do I need to carry it around?” he said.

No decision has been made, Robertson said, but the subject is being discussed.

Still, smartphones are not infallible and the lack of a physical key, be it metal or electronic, may present challenges when leaving a car for service, valet parking a car, or even when the smartphone’s battery runs out.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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