Despite a recent ad campaign touting the new 2017 Mercedes E-Class and its “Drive Pilot” driver assistance system as the “first self-driving car,” you actually still have to actively drive it. Sorry.
Earlier this month, a print advertisement was discovered displaying the new 2017 E-Class as a “self-driving car from a very self-driven company.” Mercedes later reached out to Jalopnik to clarify that the car is not, in fact, “self-operating,” and that the print ad would be part of a new campaign for the E-Class using “industry vernacular,” despite not actually being a self-driving car.
That ad campaign is continuing to come back to haunt Mercedes as Automotive News reports today that multiple consumer and automotive safety groups have complained to the Federal Trade Commission over worries that the expanded campaign could mislead consumers by overstating the capabilities of the driver assistance systems on the new E-Class.
From Automotive News:
In a letter to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, the consumer and safety advocates said the sedan doesn’t meet the meet National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s definition of a fully or partially self-driving car. Yet the E-class is “marketed in a way that a reasonable consumer would believe it does,” the advocates said, adding the commercial could give “a false sense of security in the ability of the car to operate autonomously.”
The letter was signed by leaders of Consumer Reports, the Center for Auto Safety and the Consumer Federation of America, and by former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook.
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And here’s the new advertisement called into question:
Unlike the print ads from earlier this month, this ad doesn’t directly label the 2017 E-Class as “self-driving,” which is a step in the right direction.
The issue is that it shows the driver removing his hands from the wheel and never placing them back, despite the car’s system requiring you to make contact with the wheel every 30 seconds. This may give prospective owners the impression that the car takes over all controls itself and they’re not required to pay attention on the road, which could lead to a crash.
Of course, there is a disclaimer at the bottom that briefly flashes up for about seven seconds:
“Vehicle can not drive itself, but has automated driving features. System will remind the driver frequently to keep hands on the steering wheel. Always observe safe driving practices and obey all road traffic regulations.”
The FTC doesn’t allow for advertisers to use fine print to clarify false impressions that aren’t clarified in the content of the ad itself.
As stated previously when covering the print ad from the same campaign, the “Drive Pilot” system on the E-Class wasn’t even very good in practice, struggling to detect vehicles merging into blind spots and failing to offer our road tester a secure state of mind when using the system on the freeway. It’s a driver assistance system nowhere close to full self-driving capability.
In a comparison article posted just today over on The Drive, Jalopnik contributor Alex Roy slammed the Drive Pilot system by going so far as to label it dangerous.
For Mercedes to use “industry vernacular” like “self-driving” to market a car that lacks the capabilities that define a self-driving car is nothing short of false advertisement. Airing a national ad that shows the driver removing control of the steering wheel may give consumers the wrong impression about the actual capability of the car.
This awkward transition period featuring semi-autonomous systems will only continue to be full of ethical questions over how to market, sell, and use such systems. But advertising a product using the “self-driving” label should only be used when the cars being marketed can actually reflect that title.
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