Mercedes Pulls Potentially Confusing Ads For 2017 E-Class That Call The Car ‘Self-Driving’

Fully autonomous cars will be available to consumers someday, but not yet. After consumer advocates, including our own parent organization, Consumer Reports, complained to Mercedes and to the Federal Trade Commission about the misleading nature of an ad that shows off a new model’s driver-assist features. The car isn’t autonomous, but advocates were concerned that the ads imply that it is.

Mercedes has reportedly taken the TV spot down from its YouTube channel, but it’s still available over at ad site iSpot. It begins with a voiceover by Jon Hamm asking, “Is the world truly ready for a car that can drive itself? An autonomous-thinking automobile that protects those inside and out?” No, probably not, because the E-Class isn’t an autonomous car.

The ad does have disclaimers, but they’re easy to miss.


The ad shows some situations where the 2017 E class uses automated features like steering assist, cruise control, and parking assist, but doesn’t clarify that this car doesn’t drive itself, and can put the driver back in control at any time.

In an open letter to FTC chair Edith Ramirez, the consumer advocates, including representatives from Consumer Reports, the Consumer Federation of America, the Center for Auto Safety, and a former NHTSA administrator, shared a magazine ad for the car and expressed concern that the vehicle is being sold as fully autonomous. They shared an ad for the E-Class that has appeared in some print magazines. It’s easy to see how a reader could get the wrong idea.


“The E-Class does not meet the definition of either a fully or partially self-driving car,” they write in the letter, “yet it is marketed in a way that a reasonable consumer would believe it does.”

The question of what features make a car self-driving became an important one when news broke that a fatal crash involving a Tesla Model X happened when the car was in semi-autonomous “Autopilot” mode. What happens if more drivers put their trust in cars that aren’t actually self-driving?

The company has decided to pull the ads in response to the consumer advocates’ concerns. “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,” a Mercedes spokeswoman told AutoNews.

The consumer advocates say that this is a win for consumers. William Wallace, policy analyst for Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports, said in a statement that “consumers deserve clear communication about what new technologies in vehicles can and cannot do. All auto companies should be sure that their marketing choices don’t run the risk of making consumers think a car or safety feature is more capable than it is.”

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