PARIS -- The next Mercedes-Benz S class will offer the brand's first self-driving system capable of eyes-off conditional autonomy.
The technology will be introduced in the brand's flagship model before eventually trickling down into lower segment vehicle, Ola Kaellenius, Daimler's head of research, told reporters at the Paris auto show last week. Kaellenius will succeed Dieter Zetsche as Daimler and Mercedes CEO in May.
"We are on the verge of jumping to Level 3, which is our target for the next S class," Kaellenius said. "That is something that you can then buy as an option, and you can proliferate it relatively quickly into higher volumes -- especially with a brand like Mercedes."
When asked whether Mercedes' technology would arrive before BMW comes to market in 2021 with its own Level 3 system planned for the iNext, Kaellenius indicated Mercedes would be first. "The next S class is due for 2020, so the timeframe should be realistic," he said.
Both Mercedes and BMW are behind Audi, which debuted the world’s first eyes-off Level 3 system in the new A8 sedan. The A8 has been equipped to begin offering the technology to customers as soon as Audi receives regulatory approval to sell the system. Regulators in the standards-setting body UNECE in Geneva continue to debate with carmakers the safety risks involved with the technology.
Currently all systems available on the market, including Tesla’s Autopilot and General Motor’s Super Cruise, are advanced versions of Level 2 assistance systems. Drivers cannot take their eyes off the road and must be prepared at all times to take back control of the vehicle. Level 3 systems also have limited use: only Germany has legalized motorists to transfer operation of the vehicle to the onboard computer.
Automakers are starting to get cold feet when it comes to the technology, with Volkswagen Group considering how to share the costs and the risks, both technical and legal, with other competitors.
Daimler is taking a dual track approach when it comes to self-driving technology. On the one hand it is evolving its Level 2 hands-off assistance systems to the point where a driver no longer has to monitor the road at all times. On the other, it is working together with Robert Bosch to develop a fully autonomous vehicle for mobility service providers operating robotaxi fleets.