Mercedes Exec Blasts Tesla for Reckless “Full Self-Driving” Rollout

Baby Steps

Tesla has gotten plenty of flack for the way it's been rolling out its controversial "Autopilot" and "Full Self-Driving" driver assistance software.

For years now, the Elon Musk-led company has used the general public as guinea pigs, offering its customers to beta test FSD through a mind-bogglingly expensive beta.

And the data speaks for itself: regulators are investigating hundreds of crashes involving the company's self-driving software, including dozens of deaths.

It's an approach to autonomous driving that could backfire spectacularly, Musk's executive peers say, further eroding trust in self-driving tech overall.

Such a rollout "should be a step-by-step approach." Mercedes-Benz's autonomous driving head Jochen Haab told Drive. "Do it slowly, but do it the right way. Build trust, build confidence."

Overpromise and Underperform

Haab took aim at Tesla's boisterous marketing, something that regulators have found could lead to overconfident drivers who overestimate its capabilities and end up behaving dangerously on the road.

"We're concerned about others, let's say, promising too much," Haab told Drive. "That's not the way we approach things."

"The problem is — if things are overpromised or do underperform, even if it's very seldom, the entire trust in autonomous driving itself loses confidence," he added. "And that's a bad thing."

A JD Power study last year more or less confirmed Haab's suspicions, finding that consumers are losing confidence in self-driving cars. A separate AAA survey in March found that 68 percent of Americans are afraid of self-driving cars, an increase of 13 percent year over year.

Mercedes has been working on its own Level 3 autonomous driving system, meaning that vehicles can make informed decisions for themselves but still require human drivers poised to take over at any time — although they're able to take their eyes off the road for short periods. The tech was greenlit in California and Nevada last year, making the German automaker the first company in the US to sell cars with Level 3 features.

Tesla's FSD system is still technically considered Level 2, a subtle distinction that means humans are still very much expected to be in control over the vehicle.

By misleadingly marketing it as "Full Self-Driving," and allowing the public to beta test incomplete and deeply flawed software, Tesla is putting the self-driving cart in front of the horse.

"We deal with the risk and then we take the step," Haab told Drive. "We do field validation, we act as if we're the customers."

Haab argued that Mercedes only beta tests with trained employees, who are "skilled engineers or testing drivers."

Given the documented drop in confidence among consumers, there's good reason to be wary of Tesla's move-fast and break-things approach to what it calls "self-driving."

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