The 2016 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan looks like it will launch in Australia around June with the full, comprehensive range of Drive Pilot autonomous driving technology after all.
At this week’s global E-Class reveal in Detroit, Mercedes-Benz Australia said some autonomous tech would not be allowed in our market until 2017, because it needed to demonstrate the technology to get government approval to sell the cars.
But overnight communication between the company’s local operations and the federal Department of Transport and Regional Services in the interim has yielded positive news. It will come from launch after all, likely as an option.
The news clears the way for Mercedes-Benz Australia to offer a vehicle this year with more autonomous car technology than any other, bar perhaps the Tesla Model S that updates software over the cloud (currently up to version 7.1) to existing hardware.
Mercedes-Benz Australia Pacific corporate communications senior manager David McCarthy said today that the continued harmonisation of Australian regulations with European standards cleared the way for it to come here.
It had been expected that the first Australian E-Class models would have to have Drive Pilot (to be called the Driver Assistance Package in Australia) disengaged, and then re-engaged, once it got approval in 2017.
The Drive Pilot suite allows the Mercedes-Benz E-Class to drive autonomously, without the driver, for a full minute or more.
The system allows the car to follow traffic speeds at up to 210km/h, automatically adjust speeds in response to camera-detected speed limits or those logged in the navigation system (this aspect of the camera may not work in Australia yet), and change lane by itself.
This latter system works because the car’s computer ‘brain’ pairs with the blind-spot assist system, lane assist system and others to execute a lane manoeuvre. Even when you’re driving, the active blind-spot assistance can stop you executing a dodgy merge.
The 2016 E-Class also comes with a feature that remotely parks the car via an app (the new BMW 7 Series does this, as does Tesla’s 7.1 ‘beta’ Summon software system). But this Mercedes feature will not come to Australia, as ADRs do not allow external operation of a car.
“The latest discussions with DoTaRS indicates it [Drive Pilot] will be approved for sale in Australia,” said McCarthy. “The rider on this is the federal government regulates the cars and you can’t register a car without a compliance plate.
“Some state police forces have different views on different things … but the federal government has primacy. The caution I am putting in here is if a particular state police department says ‘you’re not in control of the vehicle’ there could be some discussion on it.
“But the latest information we have now – overnight – is that because it is approved for sale in Europe there should be no impediment to the cars having it here.”
McCarthy said Mercedes-Benz Australia would be happy to demonstrate the system to DoTaRS.