Mercedes-Benz Angles For Pole Position In Self-Driving Derby

Author

Dale Buss, Contributor

January 27, 2015

Mercedes-Benz is planning a Super Bowl ad about its new GT sports car, but brand executives also have their eye on a much bigger picture: their commitment to win the race to autonomous driving.

Given a chance to tell me what the brand’s “most important overarching message [is] right now,” Drew Slaven, vice president of marketing for Mercedes-Benz USA, didn’t talk about any characteristic that unites the series of new-product launches that it plans in the United States for 2015, including the new GT.

Instead, Slaven emphasized to me how Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche’s unveiling of the F 015 Luxury in Motion “research vehicle” at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month “showcase[d] what we think the future of luxury is, specifically with autonomous drive as one of its core pillars. And that carried onto the stage” at the Detroit auto show a week later.

“It is certainly a cornerstone of Mercedes-Benz innovation.”

Indeed, Zetsche highlighted how “autonomous driving will change our society” as he showcased various features of the concept F 015 which made it evident that Mercedes-Benz wants to establish its luxury-brand experience in a whole new way in the rolling lounges that self-driven cars are to become. “The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space,” he said.

In the Mercedes-Benz vision, that “mobile living space” will include a “variable seating system” with four rotating lounge chairs that allow a face-to-face seating configuration. In order to make getting in and out of the car easier, the electrically powered seats also swing outwards by 30 degrees as soon as the doors are opened.

There are six display screens “harmoniously integrated into the instrument panel and the rear and side panels,” as Mercedes-Benz described them, “which turn the interior of the F 015 Luxury in Motion into a digital arena.” Passengers can interact with the vehicle through gestures, eye-tracking or by touching the high-resolution screens. Yet light-weighting engineers were able to make the car’s body shell 40 percent lighter compared with today’s production vehicles.

“The greater the advance of urbanization, the greater is the desire of the individual to be able to retreat to a private sphere,” Zetsche said at CES. “Autonomous driving will become a given. As drivers are relieved of work and stress in situations in which driving is not enjoyable, the time gained while in their car takes on a whole new quality. Time and space will become the luxury of the future.”

No doubt when self-driven cars really get rolling, other “lifestyle” brands that have nothing to do with making automobiles today but do help dictate the comforts of home — think Ralph Lauren, or Eddie Bauer, or even Martha Stewart  or a fashion house such as Dolce & Gabbana — will come up with their own versions of the kind of vehicle that Zetsche envisions.

So does Slaven believe it’s in any way risky for Mercedes-Benz to invest significant resources into building any story these days around self-driving cars, given the uncertain future of the concept and the competition to get there?

“The technology is further than a year away but we’re a lot closer than a lot of consumers know with what autonomous driving is,” he told me. “They have the initial reaction of, ‘I don’t want to lose control of my vehicle,’ [and] the technologies on Mercedes-Benz vehicles may be only semi-autonomous at this point, but they exist, and consumers are responding very, very positively to them.”

These systems and devices, of course — common on many mainstream as well as premium-market vehicles by now — include collision-prevention assistance and blind-spot monitoring.

“Consumers care more when there’s a tangible consumer benefit, not just the promise of what will be,” Slaven said. “But they want to peak under the sheet. And Mercedes-Benz has done an excellent job of providing clarity about what we have in store with autonomous driving.”

This article was written by Dale Buss from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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