The days when you could attract attention late in the evening at the bar or on the counter of the tennis club with a flashing car key are long gone. The metal pieces of jewelry with corresponding chrome-plated or silver-plated brand pendants have long been forgotten. The keys themselves no longer have a beard for a long time, but are mostly small black radio transmitters that don’t make much of an impression. This means that even drivers of high-priced sports cars prefer to keep them in their pockets, because visually the technical access authorization for a Mercedes A-Class can hardly be distinguished from that of an exclusive S-Class. Porsche has given its vehicle keys the silhouette of the respective model – but this can only be recognized by those who hold the key in their hands and look at it closely. It still remains cheap-looking plastic.

More and more vehicles also have keyless entry. This means that the vehicle key or corresponding key card can remain in your pocket or handbag. One pull on the door handle and the vehicle opens as if by magic and all you have to do to start the engine is press the button on the steering column or even select the appropriate gear. Keyless access has been common practice for many years, especially in the USA and Asia. The so-called keyless entry or keyless go system is also becoming increasingly popular in high-volume cars in Europe. The luxury models and vehicles from the upper class have mostly had the equipment on board as a requirement. For example, the luxury key of the previous BMW 7 Series, on which numerous functions could be switched via a small display, had no chance.

The future goes one step further, because the vehicle key of yesteryear no longer plays a role in modern vehicles. Therefore, if it is still there when it is delivered, it can safely remain in the safe at home or with the vehicle documents. Access to the corresponding vehicle is possible with your own smartphone or, if you don’t value elegant chronometers, with your smartwatch on your wrist. The first systems have already been on the market for several years. However, for a long time there was a problem with the fact that mostly only users of Android mobile phones could use keyless access because Apple did not want to open the programming codes for its iOS operating system. A glued-on NFC chip was supposed to close this operating gap – but that didn’t work.

Now that the problem has been solved with the latest smartphone technology, the end of the normal vehicle key seems to be finally sealed. This not only has practical reasons for the customer, but is also in the interest of the car manufacturer, because this is how they get the user’s data via the personalized vehicle ID and, as we know, this data is worth a lot these days. The new access authorizations via smartphone are made possible not least by the new, completely networked on-board systems, which the driver can access at any time and at any time via smartphone. And when it comes to planned routes, conditioning the battery pack or other comfort settings, the step to keyless access is not far away.

This is also the reason why the systems are not only on board in new luxury class models such as the Mercedes E-Class or BMW i5 / 5 Series, but also, for example, in a volume model such as the Hyundai Kona. “At a time when the smartphone has become our everyday companion, the digital vehicle key is an absolutely useful function and we are pleased that this technology is making its way into the B-SUV segment for the first time with the introduction of the new Hyundai Kona “, says Jürgen Keller, Managing Director of Hyundai Germany. The digital Kona key is based on NFC technology and is compatible with current devices from iOS version 16.3 or Android version 13 that have a wallet function. Via the Bluelink app , which is available in the App Store or Google Play, the digital vehicle key can be stored in the smartphone in just a few steps. As soon as the smartphone is held against the door handle on the driver or passenger side, the vehicle unlocks or locks itself – with compatible devices when the smartphone battery is empty. To start the engine, the smartphone must be in the storage compartment in the center console.

It looks very similar with the new Mercedes E-Class, for example. The driver only has to carry a corresponding smartphone with them, which is linked to the vehicle via the in-house Mercedes Me Connect app. So-called key sharing is even possible: family members or friends can be digitally invited to use the luxury sedan. Your rights can be set variably, so that, for example, there is only access to the vehicle or trips are permitted. The digital vehicle key can be shared with a maximum of 16 people. This means that the key board at home is gradually becoming empty, as smartphones are slowly taking over access to front doors.