The vehicular ad hoc network (VANET) is a novel wireless network and suffers security threats as other networks. Information exchanged in the network might be stolen by malicious users, and some secure mechanisms are needed to provide the privacy. In VANET, the vehicles can be separated to different groups. When vehicles in the same group want to communicate with others, they can use the group key to protect the messages, and the privacy in the group communication is preserved. In this paper, we propose a group key management method with centralized key management scheme for VANET. In each group, there is a group leader, and the group leader will manage the members and the keys. By managing the group keys properly, the communication in the group can be secure. In the performance evaluation and analysis, our proposal provides better rekey mechanisms to related works and also achieves the forward secrecy and backward secrecy. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.