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Mazda throws away key for USB

USB drive will replace the ignition key in Mazda's Sassou concept car, but don't look for it on a showroom floor anytime soon. Photo: Mazda concept car

Mazda has created a concept car that uses a USB drive as its ignition key.

The USB (universal serial bus) feature will be part of its Sassou concept car, a small hatchback aimed at the youth market, Mazda said this week. The car will be unveiled at this month's Frankfurt Motor Show.

Sassou uses a USB "key" and interface port that will let drivers program and load files onto the car's hard drive. But auto industry watchers note that such a feature may take years to show up on showroom floors--or it may never make it that far.

"Concept cars are used to introduce a new body style and, on top of that, the manufactures throw in all kinds of features. Often, those ideas are not ready for production," said Csaba Csere, editor-in-chief of Car and Driver magazine. "It usually takes three years from design to production."

Bluetooth, for example, was discussed as a potential feature in cars for six years before it made it into production, Csere noted.

Volkswagen, for example, is planning to offer Bluetooth-enabled handset systems from Nokia that will be compatible with GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) phones, the company announced earlier this year. Drivers will be allowed to access the SIM (subscriber identity module) card in their mobile phones through steering wheel controls, voice dial or an external keyboard.

Mazda and other car manufactures that may consider offering the USB key feature will have to work out issues such as security, Csere said.

"They'll want to make sure that the information can't be copied and used to steal the car," he said. "With some radio-based ignition keys, thieves have set up receivers to steal the code and program a transmitter with the same code to steal the car."

Car manufacturers have since developed keys with rolling codes to make it more difficult to steal a car, Csere added.