Volvo S90 Using Phone as Key

Forget Keys, Volvo Testing Smartphone App To Replace Them

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Those crazy Swedes. When they’re not busy making us drool over their sensible, handsome designs in the new S90 sedan and V90 wagon, they’re thinking up weird things like getting rid of car keys altogether in favor of a smartphone app that’ll serve as a digital key.

Volvo S90 Using Phone as Key
Photo: Volvo Cars

A press release from Volvo said the Swedish automaker plans to be the world’s first to offer its customers the ability to access and start their cars with a smartphone app — there will be no keys — as early as 2017.

We knew this was coming, right? Automakers including GM (Onstar RemoteLink) and FCA (UConnect Access) have been offering drivers the ability to lock, unlock, and remotely start their cars, among other features, for a few years now. Heck, even Volvo has its On Call app that can control those features and many more.

The press release said as part of the keyless future, owners will be offered a smartphone app that will replace the physical key with a digital key. The automaker said this would offer its customers more flexibility, “allowing them to benefit from entirely new ways to use and share cars.” Reportedly, the technology will allow Volvo customers to receive more than one digital key on their phones so that they can access more than one Volvo car in more than one location, depending on their transportation needs.

That means you might book and pay for a Volvo rental car, then receive the digital key for that rental on your smartphone within seconds, Volvo said. It also means you’ll be able to send your key code to friends or relatives if you let them drive your car, according to the press release.

Volvo Cars Vice President of Product Strategy and Vehicle Line Management Henrik Green said, “At Volvo, we are not interested in technology for the sake of technology. New technology has to make our customers’ lives easier and save them time. Mobility needs are evolving and so are our customers’ expectation to access cars in an uncomplicated way.

“Our innovative digital key technology has the potential to completely change how a Volvo can be accessed and shared. Instead of sitting idle in a parking lot the entire day, cars could be used more often and efficiently by whoever the owner wishes,” Green concluded.

Volvo said it is preparing to pilot the new smartphone-based key technology this spring via its Sunfleet car-sharing service based at the airport in the automaker’s hometown of  Gothenberg, Sweden. There, a limited number of Volvos will be commercially available with the new digital key technology in 2017.

Volvo Cars Special Products New Car Director Martin Rosenqvist said, “There are obviously many permutations when it comes to how this shared key technology can be used. We look forward to seeing how else this technology might be used in the future and we welcome any and all ideas.”

Volvo said the keyless car technology will be showcased publicly for the first time in Barcelona, Spain at Mobile World Congress 2016.

In light of news from late last year that showed vulnerabilities of some connected car technologies, one could be forgiven for worrying about the potential for unscrupulous types to steal your key code.

Those of us who take a slightly rosier, less-paranoid outlook on life may be just fine with the idea of using Volvo’s keyless tech every day — surely they have given security a lot of thought, after all. But for those who are less trusting, have no fear: Volvo said it will continue to offer physical car keys to those who want them.

Lyndon Johnson

Lyndon Johnson

Lyndon Johnson is a husband and father of two who has now spent more of his life as a journalist than as a non-journalist. He serves as assistant editor at his hometown weekly paper in rural Tennessee and freelances in the automotive journalism world.