View Full Version : Car Keys Could Go the Way of Tail Fins

04-14-07, 07:57 AM
April 14, 2007
Car Keys Could Go the Way of Tail Fins

Are we about to lose our car keys for good?

Around the floor of the New York International Auto Show, which runs through tomorrow, doors swing open to reveal push-button starters — no key necessary.

They can be found on about 55 cars and trucks, including luxury models from Audi, BMW and Mercedes, and on Nissan’s inexpensive Versa as part of a $700 “convenience package.” Push-button starters have also become standard on hybrid-electric vehicles, like the Toyota Prius.

James D. Farley, the chief of North American marketing at Toyota, said that he has been fretting about whether to build all future models with push-button starters.

“What keeps me awake?” he asked recently. “Car keys.”

Push-button starters are a retro feature, dating back to the industry’s toddler years. In 1913, the Locomobile became one of the first cars to use one. Carmakers also started using keys around that time, after ignitions (and car theft) were invented.

Today’s keyless models use a fob — the small remote control device that most modern cars use to lock and unlock doors — but it performs the additional duty of sending a signal to the ignition. For the car to start, the fob has to be somewhere near the dashboard, perhaps stowed in a cup holder.

A driver then just needs to put a foot on the brake, and push the button. The engine comes to life, or, in the case of hybrids, the word “ready” lights up on the dashboard. Turning off the car happens the same way: gearshift in park, foot on the brake, finger on the button.

Not everyone is quite ready to give up keys. Honda decided not to offer a push-button starter on its newest MDX model, sold by its Acura luxury division. The cost of installing sensors to operate the ignition, said its chief engineer, Frank Paluch, was more than Honda thought even well-heeled customers would be willing to pay.

But that may change as other car companies shift to push-buttons, sending car keys to the same bin now filled with window cranks and whitewall tires.