Safety Advocates Call on FTC to Investigate Mercedes Ad

Groups Claim E-Class Spot Leads Viewer To Believe Car Drives Itself

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This story has been updated with a statement from Mercedes-Benz.

Consumer and auto safety advocates have called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Mercedes-Benz over a TV commercial for the 2017 E-class, saying the ad could mislead consumers by overstating the capability of automated driving systems available on the sedan.

The E-class offers an optional driver-assist feature that Mercedes calls "Drive Pilot," which includes advanced adaptive cruise control and automated steering that allows the sedan to follow traffic and keep its lane at speeds of up to 130 mph.

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.

Automated driving systems and the way automakers market them have come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks after regulators disclosed that a Tesla Model S driver died in a crash with the vehicle's "Autopilot" driver-assist systems activated. NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board have both opened investigations into the crash, and Tesla has been criticized for how it marketed the system, and for the "Autopilot" name.

A Mercedes-Benz spokeswoman said it was not the company's intent to cause confusion between driver-assist systems and the future promise of autonomous vehicles, noting "one leads to the other but they are not the same."

"The systems used in the new E-Class are clearly identified as 'driver assistance systems' which we have spent the better part of two decades developing in pursuit of an accident-free future," the spokeswoman said. "'The Future,' featuring the F015 concept car, is intended to draw the connection between that vision and the innovations that are in today's Mercedes-Benz models."

In a YouTube version of the Mercedes ad, dubbed "The Future," a narrator says "Is the world truly ready for a vehicle that can drive itself? Ready or not, the future is here."

The ad shows the E-class moving through nighttime city streets, and then the driver removing his hands from the wheel as car appears to briefly steer itself. The sedan also appears to park itself while the driver adjusts his necktie.

The fine print at the bottom of the screen offers this caveat: "Vehicle cannot drive itself, but has automated driving features. The system will remind the driver frequently to keep hands on the steering wheel. Always observe safe driving practices and obey all road traffic regulations."

In a statement, the advocates said FTC guidance bars advertisers from using fine print to "contradict" statements in an ad or "clear up false impressions the ad might leave."

Merkeley is the agency for E-Class.

An FTC spokesman declined to comment.

Ryan Beene is a writer for Automotive News; the publication's Amy Wilson contributed to this report.

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