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.
That quote from the E-Class launch does not read as defining anything close to a “self-driving” car, and isn’t meant to.
It’s apparent that user interpretation of the vehicle’s actual capability can be a huge issue, unfortunately underlined by the recent death of Joshua Brown using Tesla’s Autopilot feature on the Model S, not to mention the dozens of other accusations against the company’s semi-autonomous system leading to incidents.
It’s mostly just strange to see Mercedes run an advertisement, that immediately contradicts itself, with the paragraph reading off “self-parking” and “self-correcting” capabilities while touting it as self-driving, despite the automaker clarifying on multiple occasions that the car is no such thing.
The E-Class can not think for itself; the driver must always pay attention, and thus, it isn’t a self driving car.
A spokesperson reached out to Jalopnik to respond about the advertisement:
The ad you’re looking at is one of our early E- Class ads — put into rotation before the Tesla incident. While the headline refers to self driving cars, which has been part of the industry vernacular of late, the body copy itself puts that in the context of “self parking” and “self correcting” i.e. not self-operating.
That said, the Tesla incident indicates a need to be even more specific in this regard. So when the full E-Class campaign breaks next week, you will see several additional disclaimers such as “Vehicle cannot drive itself, but has semi-automated driving features. Always observe safe driving practices. Please refer to the operating manual for details on driving assist systems.”
You are correct, this is something we take very seriously as a leader in automotive safety. Mercedes-Benz has always stressed that its technology is designed to assist the driver, not to encourage customers to ignore their responsibilities as drivers. While the new E-Class has a host of technology that will serve as the building blocks for increasing levels of autonomy (and which will be a prominent component of our marketing), it is not an autonomous vehicle and we will not be positioning it as such.