— Mercedes-Benz self-driving cars are advertised as just that, "self-driving." But according to a group of auto safety advocates, Mercedes is misleading consumers by advertising its cars as self-driving.
In a letter sent to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the consumer advocates say the automaker is using false advertising on TV and in print to sell the 2017 E-Class cars.
Consumer Reports, Consumer Federation of America and Joan Claybrook, former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), want the FTC to take a look at E-Class advertising that talks about self-driving cars while the fine print specifically says the cars aren't self-driving.
The consumer advocates say marketing for the E-Class cars is deceptive because the cars do not meet the definition of self-driving cars. In addition to giving consumers a false impression about the safety of the cars, defining the cars as "self-driving" allegedly doesn't meet requirements set forth by the government.
“[S]elf-driving vehicles are those in which operation of the vehicle occurs without direct driver input to control the steering, acceleration, and braking and are designed so that the driver is not expected to constantly monitor the roadway while operating in self-driving mode." - NHTSA
In one TV ad, the announcer says:
"Is the world truly ready for a vehicle that can drive itself? Ready or not, the future is here. Introducing the 2017 E-Class, from Mercedes-Benz."
The video shows a moving Mercedes-Benz E-Class car and a driver removing his hands from the steering wheel indicating self-driving abilities. However, the fine print on the bottom of the video says:
"Vehicle cannot drive itself, but has automated driving features. System will remind the driver frequently to keep hands on the steering wheel."
The FTC letter says just because Mercedes includes small print doesn't mean the automaker isn't violating laws. The FTC says “advertisers can’t use fine print to contradict other statements in an ad or clear up false impressions the ad might leave” and “it’s against the law for businesses to bury important details about a product or service in the fine print.”
Considering the fine print says the car isn't self-driving but the ad talks about self-driving cars and features, the consumer advocates say this is a clear violation of FTC standards. In addition to TV advertisements, Mercedes-Benz has marketed its 2017 E-Class cars in print magazines with the print specifically using the phrase, "self-driving car."
The letter to the FTC concludes by saying consumers should be able to shop for a car without dealing with misleading marketing claims, especially when those claims involve important safety features.
Mercedes responded to the consumer groups by saying the ads aren't meant to cause any confusion between current driver assistance systems and the "vision of an autonomous future.” The automaker says the print on the ads make clear the car cannot drive itself and that drivers should read about the technology to know what it can and cannot do.
Mercedes-Benz Self-Driving Car TV Ad (E-Class)