A Mercedes print ad that is featured in multiple magazines advertising a “self-driving car from a very self-driven company” doesn’t actually feature a self-driving car.
An image uploaded to imgur four days ago, and later tweeted by automotive reporter Ed Niedermeyer, of a possible advertisement for the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class heralds the vehicle as a self-driving car. It’s not a self-driving car.
A second example of the advertisement, which Mercedes didn’t confirm or deny was real when I reached out, was found in an online cache of Motor Trend Magazine by Twitter user Bozi Tatarevic, a contributing writer for The Truth About Cars. It also appears in the web cache for Mercedes-Benz Club of America Star Magazine.
Update: Mercedes later confirmed that the ad is part of the early advertising for the new E-Class.
Let me clarify that the systems on the new E-Class are driver assistance systems. This means they can help steer the car, keep it in a lane, automatically brake for obstacles (when it detects them), park itself, etc. These are all reactions to the environment. A self-driving car, or an autonomous car, doesn’t just react using sensors; it should think for itself. It is actually driving the car. The current E-Class does not do that, and thus, isn’t a “self-driving” car.
The Mercedes E-Class is a “Level Two” autonomous system, defined as having “at least two controls can be automated in unison, such as adaptive cruise control in combination with lane keeping” by the NHTSA.
A self-driving car would be a “Level Four” autonomous system, which the NHTSA defines as, “the vehicle performs all safety-critical functions for the entire trip, with the driver not expected to control the vehicle at any time. As this vehicle would control all functions from start to stop, including all parking functions, it could include unoccupied cars.”
You have to occupy the driver’s seat of the E-Class, and frequently interact with the steering to keep the system running.
What’s disconcerting about the advertisement is that, until now, automakers have been very focused on not labeling their semi-autonomous vehicle offerings as “self-driving” cars because it could mislead owners who may become overconfident in the vehicle’s technology and abilities to control the functions of driving, which would lead to crashes.
Companies like Volvo, Tesla, and even Mercedes have very clearly and very openly clarified that the semi-autonomous systems on their vehicles are not intended for extended use without human interaction.
From our review of the new E-Class, where we tested its semi-autonomous capabilities:
Each time I had a slow, merging car approach the E300, the car didn’t see it—at that point, the driver had to take control and accommodate for another car entering the lane.
The lack of sensory for merging cars was a problem throughout the camp, and myself and the other journalists were told that “it’s still an assistance system and you’re still in charge” as the driver. When another car merges, the driver needs to be in control.