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Smartphones now replacing key fobs

May 3, 2019
The time is coming to say goodbye to car keys and fobs, as they are made redundant by new technology. And two brands, Lincoln and Hyundai, are leading the charge to modernize the business of opening and operating a car.    
At the recent New York auto show, both Lincoln and Hyundai revealed new models — respectively, the Corsair crossover and the Sonata sedan. Both are remarkable for their striking designs and profusion of driver aids and safety systems. But they also stand out for being the first production cars to allow owners to use their smartphones to access and operate their vehicles and leave their keys and fobs at home.
Lincoln dubs its system "phone-as-a-key technology" and uses an app that lets Corsair owners use their smartphones to lock and unlock their car doors, open the lift gate, and start and drive the vehicle. The phone app echoes the key fob in other respects, too; it can be linked to a personal driver profile that can automatically adjust up to 80 features to an owner’s preference, including seat, mirror and pedal positions.
Lincoln claims it has considered all the ways the smartphone key system could go wrong. For instance, if the owner’s phone battery dies, the Corsair’s standard number pad (mounted on the outside of the B pillar) can give access to the cabin. And the center touchscreen can be used to start and drive the vehicle. If the owner’s phone is lost or stolen, then the app can be deleted.
Though the Corsair shares its platform with Ford’s new Escape, the Lincoln’s highly sculpted sheet metal and its interior design are quite different. And Lincoln says the phone-as-a-key system will not be shared with the Escape or other Ford products.
The 2020 Corsair hits showrooms this fall.
In Hyundai’s case, the 2020 Sonata is a mid-size sedan that also goes on sale this fall. It does not have a Lincoln-style touch pad in case of phone problems, but it does come with a card embedded with near field communication (NFC) technology as a backup to the phone app. The NFC card is designed to be useful when using a valet service or visiting a dealership. Beyond that, the Sonata system permits owners to share the ‘digital key’ with friends and family using their own phones. 
The level of access to different vehicle functions can be tailored to each shared key user for a defined period. The vehicle owner can preset the duration of vehicle use or limit the use to only certain features when loaning the vehicle, and keys can be revoked remotely.
The prospect of smartphone access to a vehicle might sound risky to consumers, but Hyundai’s director of digital business planning, Manish Mehrotra, said he feels confident that the system is secure. "We have multiple layers of encryption and security protocols designed into the system," he said.
With Lincoln and Hyundai dipping their toes into the key-less era, other automakers are expected to follow suit over the next few years. In time, consumers will be able to stop asking that age-old question: Where did I leave my car keys?