As the automotive and digital realms continue to merge, one of the titans of the traditional car world, Mercedes-Benz, is becoming more like Tesla, one of the new tech titans of mobility. One of them is promising, while the other has challenged the Mercedes-Benz brand.
This week, Mercedes-Benz pulled an ad for the redesigned E-Class Sedan after a coalition of auto-safety organizations called on the US government to investigate a new ad. Their complaint claimed the spot misleads consumers by overstating the capabilities of automated-driving systems available on the sedan.
The 30-second spot, dubbed “The Future,” features a representation of the brand’s totally self-driven F015 concept car as seen on an urban thoroughfare being passed by today’s very real and new E-Class. Briefly, the driver removes his hands as the car appears to steer itself. Soon after, the E-Class also appears to park itself while the driver adjusts his necktie.
A voiceover intones: “Is the world truly ready for a vehicle that can drive itself? Ready or not, the future is here.” Not exactly, according a complaint from the Consumers Union and the Center for Auto Safety, among others.
As USA Today reported, “While the E-Class has partial self-driving features, a driver still needs to stay fully aware. Indeed, they note the disclaimer posted at the bottom of the ad that says “Vehicle cannot drive itself, but has automated self-driving features.” Regardless, the letter says that the misrepresentations could give a drivers a “false sense of security.”
“The new 2017 E-Class is a technological tour de force and is a significant step towards achieving our vision of an accident-free future,” a Mercedes-Benz spokeswoman responded as the automaker pulled the ad. “We do not want any confusion in the marketplace to detract from the giant step forward in vehicle safety E-Class represents.”
The car does boast an optional active parking assistant called “Drive Pilot” that includes advanced adaptive cruise control and automated steering that allow the sedan to follow traffic and keep its lane at speeds of up to 130 mph.
Still, the current capabilities of the Mercedes-Benz system aren’t anywhere near what Autopilot is supposed to do for self-driving Teslas, nor does the German brand claim they are. And in general, traditional automakers have steered clear of encouraging consumers to get too dependent on even their most advanced automated-driving systems to date.
The spot did bear a fine-print warning: “Vehicle cannot drive itself, but has automated driving features. The system will remind the driver frequently to keep hands on the steering wheel. Always observe safe driving practices and obey all road traffic regulations.”
According to the consumer watchdogs, “The Future” ad portrayed the vehicle in a way “that a reasonable consumer would believe” it meets the US federal-government standard for a fully or partially self-driving car, and thus could give “a false sense of security in the ability of the car to operate autonomously.”
A Mercedes-Benz spokeswoman told Ad Age that the company didn’t intend to cause confusion between driver-assist systems and the future of autonomous vehicles, noting “one leads to the other but they are not the same.”
As for Tesla, Elon Musk’s startup has publicly hailed its Autopilot system as safer than humans, even while officially warning drivers that it’s in a “beta” phase and advising them to remain in control of their vehicle at all times.
Mercedes-Benz has also given a glimpse of future mobility with its self-steering truck concept, the Future Truck 25, which imagined what the truck driver of the future might look like:
Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler AG also outlined its plan to start selling an electric heavy-duty truck in about five years, a week after Tesla Motors’ initial sketch of a freight truck as part of its expanded lineup of the future failed to impress investors, Automotive News reported.
“An EV heavy truck is still some way from production and commercial scale, but Daimler has brought it closer to reality with this concept,” observed IHS Automotive analyst Tim Urquhart.