The new 2017 Mercedes E Class has the next great feature in autonomy: vehicle to vehicle (V2V) communication. What’s funny is that these Mercedes vehicles have no other vehicles to communicate with. So how does that work?

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V2V has been on the come up in the car world for the past few years, but it has been confined to subject headlines in university talks and industry panels on the future. This 2017 E Class is the first car to really get it out into production.

But if the Mercedes E Class is the first car to talk to other cars, which cars can it actually talk to?

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I hung around the Mercedes stand here at the Detroit Auto Show and pestered enough PR people until they dragged out an engineer to get me an answer.

Dr. Michael Hafner is Mercedes’ director of advanced drive assistance systems and active safety. “Somebody had to break through the hen-egg problem,” he told me in his very German way. He continued to explain that yes, even though no other manufacturers have any car in production that can communicate to there cars, Mercedes can talk with other Mercedes. Really, 2017 E Classes can talk to other 2017 E Classes.

And this is not a technology that can be implemented or will be implemented. This E Class to E Class communication is ready right now.

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“We decided to do it with the comm module,” Hafner told me. “This is the starting point.”

“One E can talk to another,” Hafner further explained, “via a back-end server.”

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In this system, information from one E-Class, such as it getting into a crash or encountering icy road conditions or fog, gets sent back to Mercedes’ server, and then that information gets sent back to other relevant E Classes.

This information is sent “via a module with a SIM card in the vehicle that transmits road conditions ahead to Daimler’s backend service,” Auto News reported from a conversation they had with Hafner. It can send information to a radio station or traffic alert system as well, AN noted. The system, in a way, lets one E Class be the eyes and ears of another E behind. Here’s how M-B explains the system in a graphic:

Mercedes says this system works in real time but it currently takes “a second or two,” Hafner told me with what was clearly a deep and personal professional shame that only a German can experience. But still, this kind of communication can work right now, Hafner was keen to say. To test him, I asked a hypothetical.

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The German autobahn is somewhat famous for its massive car pileups in the fog, when one car crashes into another at high speed, and in the low visibility multiple hundreds of cars end up crashing into each other.

I asked Hafner, if you somehow found thousands of 2017 Mercedes E Classes all on the same stretch of foggy autobahn and one crashed, would they all communicate to each other and prevent such a pileup. Hafner confidently affirmed that Mercedes currently can do this. “Absolutely,” Hafner told me. “This could happen tomorrow.”

Mercedes also touted that their E Class has vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) capability lumped into their ‘Car-to-X’ system, however, this was a bit more of a questionable proposition. Hafner told me that there are currently, at this moment, construction trucks in Germany with sensor that communicate when they’re at work, shutting down a section of road for work. These trucks send their information back to the same Mercedes server, which then gets routed out to regular cars on the road. Rather, it gets routed out to 2017 E Classes since they’re the only cars with this technology at the moment.

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After some poking and prodding, I was able to get Hafner to explain that this might be Mercedes technology, but these are not Mercedes trucks. They’re a couple of fleet vehicles run by the government of the German state of Hessen (of headless horseman fame). “Hessen was pioneering and we jumped in,” Hafner admitted. He went on to say while these sensor-equipped trucks aren’t exactly parts of a roadway, “this is the first example of what I would consider infrastructure.” He went on to say that the same could be put in traffic lights or more stationary pieces.

Still, this is fantastic news that V2V and V2I are finally entering production and that someone is finally busting through the chicken and egg conundrum of nobody building cars to work with a system that depends on cars being built to work with that system.

“I am glad that somebody is being that chicken!” I told Hafner with a thank you, which he returned with a somewhat confused smile.


Contact the author at raphael@jalopnik.com.