A car that unlocks itself for its driver? Such an idea would once have been a crazy feature on an extravagant concept car showing how things might appear in the future; very soon, this idea could become standard fit across whole model ranges. Martin Kahl, of AutoAnalysis, reviews developments in vehicle security.


A car security “system” of two or three decades ago would have involved simply one traditional car key and a lock per door. From the breakthrough that was central locking, via remote controlled central locking or remote keyless entry, “RKE” (most vehicles manufactured in Europe are now fitted with RKE as standard), and a brief dalliance with security keypads for ignition (which were toyed with amongst certain vehicle manufacturers, primarily in France), vehicle security systems have seen significant advances, and progress in this area is now surging forward at a staggering rate.








Until the fall of the Iron Curtain, fitment of electronic immobilisers was not required, but the upsurge in car crime in Germany after this time caused insurers great concern. During the years immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the successful efforts by Germany’s leading insurer, Allianz, to encourage the fitment of immobilisers, produced a dramatic drop in car-theft. An equivalent campaign by Thatcham, the independent UK organisation created by the motor insurance industry in 1969, which had already been trying to implement the compulsory fitment of immobilisers, produced a similarly significant fall in car-theft. According to the EC Directive EC95/66, of January 1997, immobilisers must now be fitted to all new vehicles manufactured in Europe.


Passive entry, which can be seen as the next stage in the line of development of entry systems after remote keyless entry, is essentially an interactive system whereby a vehicle “recognises” the driver without the driver actively signalling his/her presence to the vehicle. The term “Keyless Go”, although taken by Mercedes-Benz to describe the system used on its S-Class and CL models, is expected to eventually become an industry term for such systems.


At the heart of the passive entry system is a card carrying an electronic chip; through “mutual authentication”, the vehicle recognises the driver; further successful “mutual authentication” (in some cases accompanied by the push of a button) allows the driver to start the ignition. This technology is still in the “teething stage” of development in Western Europe; due to security considerations, and ongoing discussions with insurance companies and bodies such as Thatcham, much still needs to be developed before such systems can be put into large-scale series production.


On the manufacturing side, “Keyless-Go” involves two concepts: “passive entry”, which allows the driver to enter the vehicle without actively using a key, and “passive start”, which allows the driver to start the car without actively inserting a key into the ignition. The development of such systems generally takes place as a cooperation between the vehicle manufacturers and leading electronics suppliers; the two systems are then being delivered to the end-user as a single system. In Europe, passive entry is currently available on the following three models:



  • The systems available as an option on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and CL, known as “Keyless-Go”, a system developed by Mercedes-Benz and Siemens. Perhaps the only true PE system available on a car produced in Western Europe, the driver simply needs to carry the Keyless-Go card. To activate the system and unlock the doors, the driver only needs to pull the door handle. Once seated in the driver’s seat, the ignition is started by the push of a button on the dashboard. However, several competing manufacturers have acknowledged the Mercedes-Benz “Keyless-Go” system as being too expensive, and as such will never appear on any other models. In addition, Thatcham said that it will be a long time before this system will be fitted as standard in the UK.










    Mercedes-Benz uses a system called “Keyless-Go” on its S-Class and CL models

  • The Renault Laguna II system, developed by Valeo; the system available in mainland Europe has a card key which acts as both RKE and passive entry. Because of Thatcham’s reservations with Renault’s Laguna II system, Renault decided to address the UK market with the first version of its new access system, which provides the advantages of a smart card but which is equivalent to a traditional RKE from a functional point of view. Unlike the Mercedes-Benz system, the ignition is started by inserting the card into the dashboard.
  • Finally, the Lexus LS 430, produced in Japan, uses a system developed in close cooperation with Tokai Rika, which works in a similar fashion to the Mercedes-Benz system. This is offered as an option across Europe, with standard fitment in Germany and Switzerland.

Most other vehicle manufacturers are working on passive entry with major suppliers. However, these systems are believed to be several years from series introduction.


Vehicle manufacturers and OEMs alike are playing on the idea of passive entry as a means to ending the problems caused by lost or stolen car keys. However, it cannot be denied that whether a traditional key or a chip card for passive entry is used, in effect, only the shape and appearance of the unit changes, and the existence of a unit of some kind (which can be lost or stolen) still exists; the TIRIS (Texas Instruments) electronic wristband, which uses TIRIS RFID (Radio Frequency ID) transponder technology, offers a possible solution currently, and is currently being tested in conjunction with Federal Express; each time the driver approaches the vehicle, mutual authentication takes place and the vehicle unlocks itself.


Other suppliers in the advanced stages of development in this area include:



  • Marquardt, the lock manufacturer mentioned above, which is working with vehicle manufacturers on a Keyless-Go system;
  • Visteon, too, is currently working on a Hands-Free Entry System, under the motto “Never Lose Your Keys Again”.
  • Kostal and Siemens worked very closely with DaimlerChrysler on the development of Keyless-Go systems, and are both individually currently in talks with certain other vehicle manufacturers for possible series introduction of such systems in the near future.

If passive entry as discussed above is the next stage in the development of entry systems, then Siemens’ recent announcement, that its fingerprint recognition technology for engine ignition could be at a production-ready stage within two years, indicates the way that sci-fi ideas of the past are fast becoming reality.







To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-


Vehicle Security


PriceWaterhouseCoopers Global Supplier Report


OEM Automotive Electronics in North America to 2004