Mercedes-Benz Pulls E-class Ad over Autonomous Confusion

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In an advertisement introducing its new E-class sedan, Mercedes-Benz touted the car as “a self-driving car from a very self-driven company.”

Well, not exactly.

Though the German automaker’s new sedan contains some automated-driving technology, it’s not a car capable of driving itself in all scenarios. Under pressure from consumer groups that said the advertising campaigns overstated the capabilities of the actual vehicle, Mercedes-Benz said Friday it would withdraw a similar ad, the TV spot “The Future,” from the market in hopes of avoiding any consumer confusion.

The E-class is “a technological tour de force and is a significant step towards achieving our vision of an accident-free future,” a company spokesperson said in a written statement. “We do not want any potential confusion in the marketplace to detract from the giant step forward in vehicle safety the 2017 E-class represents.”

The company’s decision comes amid fresh scrutiny of how automakers label and portray their advanced-driving technologies. In May, a motorist using Tesla Motors’ “Autopilot” semi-autonomous feature died in a crash when neither he nor the system applied the brakes as a tractor-trailer crossed the vehicle’s path. Tesla offers Autopilot as a “beta” technology, and reminds drivers they remain responsible for vehicle operations. Federal investigators are probing the incident and examining how the driver’s reliance on the technology contributed to the crash.

With “Autopilot,” Mercedes-Benz’s “Drive Pilot,” General Motors’ upcoming “Super Cruise,” or any of the other advanced driver-assistance features offered by an increasing number of car companies, it’s still important for drivers to pay attention, look past the brand names, and understand the systems and their limitations.

“The misrepresentations by Mercedes-Benz could give consumers a false sense of security in the ability of the car
-to operate autonomously.”

In its guidance to automakers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration parses autonomous functionality into four levels. Level 1 automation involves specific control functions where the vehicle automatically assists with stability control or braking. Level 2 involves the automation of at least two primary control functions designed to relieve the driver’s burden in controlling the vehicle. Examples might include adaptive cruise control combined with active lane centering. Level 3 automation contains vehicles that can handle all driving functions in limited scenarios; the driver is expected to be available to take occasional control. In Level 4 automation, the vehicle performs all driving functions and monitors road conditions for an entire trip.

Good luck packaging all that into a marketing campaign. Yet that’s exactly the challenge automakers face.

“We need to be cognizant with our messaging to build this trust over time,” said Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction and human-machine interface at J.D. Power. “Trust is extremely fragile. It takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair. The Tesla incident is extremely unfortunate. We need to focus on ‘How do we message around this, built trust in these capabilities in terms of what they can and cannot do, and what the driver’s role will be.”

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Outside groups are ensuring that warning is followed. Consumer Reports, the Center for Auto Safety, Consumer Federation of America, and former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook signed a letter to the Federal Trade Commission earlier this week that called on the agency to take enforcement action against Mercedes-Benz. In a letter to FTC chairman Edith Ramirez, they wrote, “the E-class does not meet the definition of either a fully or partially self-driving car, yet it is marketed in a way that a reasonable consumer would believe it does. In addition to a consumer possibly purchasing a car while being misled about its capabilities, the misrepresentations by Mercedes-Benz could give consumers a false sense of security in the ability of the car to operate autonomously.”

“The Future” ad features Mercedes’ F015 autonomous research car. The ad intends to draw a connection between a vision of the self-driving future and the advanced driver-assistance features available on the E-class today, according to the spokesperson.

In fine print, the ad says, “Vehicle cannot drive itself, but has semi-automated driving features. Always observe safe driving practices.” In their letter, the consumer advocates said the fine print “does not let Mercedes-Benz off the hook.”

While car companies love to portray themselves as technically leading-edge, nowhere more so than in the push toward self-driving cars, we can bet that they will tread more carefully in making claims on that front—at least with regards to their current models.


from Car and Driver Blog http://blog.caranddriver.com/mercedes-benz-pulls-e-class-ad-over-autonomous-confusion/

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