Head of Mercedes-Benz research and development, Ola Kallenius, says the brand’s fully autonomous vehicles will retain a steering wheel and pedals for those who want to drive themselves, while AMG’s chief says self-driving performance cars are welcome in the company’s portfolio.
It may seem like a distant problem, but following the news Ford will sell a car without human controls within four years, it’s important to note that not all manufacturers are intent on wresting steering wheels away from car owners.
“We’re not going to do away with driving if you want to drive yourself,” said Kallenius, speaking to Australian media at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
“I understand driving is actually a pretty healthy exercise. Some of us like driving, at least I like driving. Not all the time, but often.
“A Level 4 car doesn’t have to abolish the steering wheel and the pedals. You can have a fully autonomous car, that you can by your own choosing drive yourself as well. We will add in autonomous drive and a wealth of other things you can do when you’re in the car.”
The target at Mercedes-Benz for Level 4 autonomy is between 2020 and 2025. That’s for a car that can monitor its environment and drive itself on all roads without any assistance or human safety net.
Cars with such capability are desirable to companies running ‘robotaxi’ services, such as ride-hailing businesses like Uber or car2go, the latter of which is owned by Benz’s parent company Daimler. Merc plans to offer the technology to regular end users in its passenger cars as well.
“If I look at it for personal use, if I could pay to get a chauffeur so that on Saturday night I want to go out to town and I don’t want to drive after a glass of wine, or I’m tired after a long day and I want the car to drive me home because my concentration is not so good, I would buy that.
“You can get yourself a driver today if you’re a wealthy person but it’s very expensive. If that becomes an option for some thousands of dollars, I think that’s hugely attractive.”
Kallenius was formerly boss of Mercedes-AMG before taking up his current role at the helm of research and development for Mercedes-Benz.
“Thank goodness that Australians love driving dynamics, I love driving dynamics and I will continue to do so.”
That sentiment is echoed even by AMG chief Tobias Moers, who said to Wheels that self-driving tech is welcome in Mercedes’ top-tier performance cars as long as it doesn’t get in the way of those who prefer to take command.
“I think there’s never a no go from our side for autonomous driving, because everybody gets stuck in a traffic jam,” Moers said to Wheels at the Detroit Motor Show.
“And when the car does everything on its own you can do your emails, you have extra time to do your work. So, as long as you have a button to switch everything off it’s OK.”
“It gives you other opportunities as well,” Moers continued.
“Imagine on a track Bernd Schneider is telling you ‘that was too late, you’re going to hit the wall’. If you have all the technology on board, record a track and you can get the support out of the car.”