Once a simple slab of metal with precisely-cut contours, the car key – like everything else about the automobile – has evolved steadily over the past century into something a bit more advanced. A majority of car keys today offer remote un/locking, and many provide proximity-based access and/or push-button start, beside.
If you’ve ever wondered what General Motors’ role has been in the evolution of the car key, a recent piece by Car and Driver has the answer.
GM’s first big contribution came in 1986, C/D says, with that year’s Chevrolet Corvette. It was the first to debut GM’s Vehicle Anti-Theft System (VATS), which places a coded resistor in each factory key, making the key harder to replicate and the car more secure – theoretically, at least.
The next year, the 1987 Cadillac Allanté offered an electronic key fob with remote locking and unlocking capability – not the earliest known car with the feature, but a very early adopter of a technology which would go on to become ubiquitous.
By the time of the 1993 Chevrolet Corvette, GM had moved on to proximity key technology – a system where the car will automatically unlock as the key’s carrier approaches, and automatically lock as they walk away. A separate key was required for ignition.
And finally, in 2004, that year’s Chevrolet Malibu became the first car to offer remote start from the factory. That technology had existed in the vehicle aftermarket for years, C/D says, but the Malibu brought it to production.
What’s next for the car key? It’s hard to say for sure, but the smart money is on transferring all the functions of the key to one’s smart phone. That’s the direction Tesla Motors is going with the Model 3, with a small, credit-card-size backup to provide some redundancy in the event your phone dies. It’s perhaps a bit superfluous and showy, but it makes a lot of sense when you consider that if there’s one thing the modern American never leaves their house without, it’s their phone.