History isn't even getting a chance to become history before it repeats itself this week. Mercedes has come under scrutiny for its Drive Pilot semi-autonomous system. Sound familiar? That's because Tesla's was similarly dinged by the press for naming its system Autopilot. Both names, it is claimed, may lead owners to believe the car is capable of more than it actually is.
A group including Consumer Reports, the Center for Auto Safety and the Consumer Federation of America have signed a letter asking Mercedes-Benz to pull its Drive Pilot advertisements for overstating capabilities. Certain ads make references to self-driving cars and autonomous vehicles, while Drive Pilot is neither of those things.
Drive Pilot is a series of semi-autonomous features that combine to provide occasional hands-off (but never eyes-off, or brain-off) driving on highways and in traffic. It's a driver aid, just like Autopilot. And even though your hands may be off, they should be hovering over the wheel, in the event that you need to take control again. It's a combination of adaptive cruise control and active steering assist.
While Mercedes didn't immediately respond to my request for comment, it did furnish a statement to Automotive News that said it never intended to cause confusion with its system. All its advertisements have fine print pointing this out, of course, but as the outlet notes, the FTC says small print can't be used to "contradict...[or] clear up false impressions the ad might leave."
The company has pulled some of its ads from its YouTube page since Automotive News went to print.
For what it's worth, ads are short and need to get a lot of information across in a short period of time. When you get into more fleshed-out descriptions of the system, like the one below, you can see that "assistant" is used multiple times, and it always shows the driver's hands hovering over the wheel and the driver's foot hovering over the brake.