Mercedes-Benz has decided to stop its efforts to develop and roll out a full self-driving solution for its passenger cars. Instead, the veteran automaker will be focusing on the creation of advanced driver-assist technology for its fleet of long-haul trucks.
The shift in Mercedes-Benz’s self-driving strategies was related by Daimler chair and head of Mercedes cars Ola Kallenius, who was speaking to the media following the cancellation of the Geneva Motor Show due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“With regard to full autonomy, we switched the priority in terms of deployment of technology and moved trucks ahead of cars. Why do we do that? Because we believe that this is the area, in a hub to hub case, where we think that the business case is most attractive, first,” he said.
Kallenius further explained that the cancellation of Mercedes-Benz’s full self-driving program for passenger cars does not mean that all of the company’s autonomous driving initiatives will be stopped. The German automaker will still be developing advanced driver-assist solutions, but they will be for its lineup of trucks, not its passenger cars.
According to the executive, this will allow Mercedes-Benz to deploy its resources in such a way that it can generate revenue as quickly as possible. Mercedes-Benz’s sister companies like Freightliner will be the perfect partners for such an initiative, especially with the emergence of trucks like the eCascadia.
“We will focus on trucks first. It doesn’t mean we are giving up the effort on passenger cars; we will continue investing in that. But we will deploy our resources in such a way where we can generate revenue at the earliest possible time,” Kallenius added.
Focusing on autonomous trucks could very well prove to be a smart move for the German automaker, considering that long-haul driving usually involves a lot of highway travel, and thus requires maneuvers that are simpler than those utilized for inner-city driving. This is one of the reasons why Tesla, arguably the leader in consumer-grade driver-assist solutions, allows automatic lane changes in the freeway with its Navigate on Autopilot feature. But in inner-city streets, Tesla’s unassisted lane changes are disabled as of writing.
That being said, Daimler’s announcement shows just how difficult it is to develop and roll out a viable full self-driving program. After all, if Waymo, a company that has been operating an autonomous fleet for years, cannot deploy a consumer-ready system for mainstream customers to this day, it is not surprising to see a company such as Mercedes-Benz throwing in the towel, at least for its passenger cars’ autonomous driving systems.