Confusion caused Mercedes crash

17 November 2005

The embarrassing pile-up of Mercedes S-Classes captured by Stern TV reveals more than most pundits might realise. The most significant is that it highlights the gulf between what most people perceive to be the role of the car maker and its actual role.

The automatic braking facility that Mercedes hoped to show off is not a Mercedes system at all – it was designed and built by a parts supplier. In this case Continental – a firm rather better known for making tyres than sophisticated radar-controlled autopilots.

Mercedes may give the public the impression that its own ingenuity lies behind all the S-Class’s cleverness, but in truth its role does not run so deep. It is just the systems integrator, not the master developer. And as such, it may not understand the foibles of the little pieces of technology that go to make up its cars as deeply as it might let on.

One thing is certain: given the company’s excuse that the structure of the building confused the radar, S-Class drivers had better not rely on the electronics when queuing to exit a multi-storey car park.

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