Tesla Model 3 has no key, so don't forget your phone

Your phone will unlock the new Model 3.

Elon Musk, Tesla

Electric car company Tesla has shown a willingness to break from automotive legacy, and it moves even further away with the Model 3, where owners will rely on their phones to access and start the car. Unlike most current cars, and even Tesla's own Model S and Model X, Model 3 owners won't need to carry a key fob in their pockets.

Tesla Model 3 door

No keys or fobs for the Model 3, as owners will access their cars with their phones.


Many cars these days offer keyless entry and start, but require the driver to have a key fob at hand, a pocket-sized device that transmits a unique radio signal. That signal tells the car to unlock its doors and ignition. For the Model 3, Tesla engineered the car to accept a digital key transmitted through Bluetooth from an owner's phone. The car uses the Bluetooth LE standard, which stands for Low Energy, and is supported by most major smartphones.

As a back-up, or for valet access, each Model 3 will come with a couple of NFC cards, which can also unlock and start-up the car. The cards will unlock the door with a tap on the B pillar, and start up the car with another tap between the front seats.

Tesla has not said if there is a mechanical means of entering a car with a completely drained battery. However, that has not been an issue with the Model S or Model X. Given Bluetooth LE's energy requirements and the large size of the Model 3's battery pack, it would be unlikely for the car to have no electricity available.

The idea of using a smartphone to access a car is not exactly new, either. Short-term car rental services, such as GM's Maven and Daimler's Car2Go let people access the cars using a phone app. NXP announced last February that it was working with five automakers on an NFC chip for door handles, which would allow programmed devices to unlock cars.

Given the enthusiasm around the Tesla Model 3, as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of preorders for the electric car, its tech-forward early adopters are not likely to miss carrying a key fob.