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Mercedes-Benz E Class Will Out-Robot Top-of-the-Line S Class

Problem is, car prices increasingly reflect their tech content, which doesn't age gracefully

2 min read
Mercedes-Benz E Class Will Out-Robot Top-of-the-Line S Class
Photo: Mercedes-Benz

New cars famously lose value as they roll out of the dealership, and they may start losing it even faster now that tech—a perishable attribute—takes up so much of the sticker price.

A case in point is the upcoming Mercedes-Benz E class, which will have rather more robotic pizzazz than today’s top-of-the-line S Class. That’s like saying that next year’s Chevrolet will have more of what you most value in a car than this year’s Cadillac.

“Innovations in this area are coming thick and fast,” Thomas Weber, Daimler’s head of development, told Bloomberg News. “While we don’t want to feed wrong expectations, such as sleeping in the car, autonomous driving is set to become a reality much more quickly than the public thinks.”

The E Class will be able to stick to its lane, drive itself through dark tunnels and make lane changes, all at speeds up to 130 kilometers per hour (80 mph)—faster than the S Class now can do. It will also take bends in the road, though sharp turns are out—for the moment. And if the driver swerves to miss an obstacle, the system will step in to fine-tune the swerve and pull the car out of it afterward.

All these steps are pushing legal boundaries, and Mercedes and other carmakers are doing their best to avoid going over them. The 2014 Mercedes S Class introduced the idea of having a buzzer sound when the driver’s hands are off the wheel too long; Tesla recently announced that drivers would have to trigger automatic lane-changing in the upcoming autopilot system.

How, though, can the industry heap on new technology without devaluing cars from the previous model year? The normal route is to introduce a novelty in a top-end car and then let it trickle down to less exalted models, but today’s fast-moving automation of cars doesn’t allow such studied slowness.

You might think the auto companies can do as the consumer software industry has done, building loaded packages for the high end and deliberately disabling bits and pieces of it to create “lite” packages for the lower end. But that’ll be a hard sell for car automation because it’s being billed mainly as a safety feature.

Or manufacturers could commit to upgrading luxury cars with all the new robotic doodads they offer on lower-priced models. But if the upgrading goes beyond software to include the installation of better sensors, it could end up costing a lot of money.

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Chinese Joint Venture Will Begin Mass-Producing an Autonomous Electric Car

With the Robo-01, Baidu and Chinese carmaker Geely aim for a fully self-driving car

4 min read
A black car sits against a white backdrop decorated with Chinese writing. The car’s doors are open, like a butterfly’s wings. Two charging stations are on the car’s left; two men stand on the right.

The Robo-01 autonomous electric car shows off its butterfly doors at a reveal to the media in Beijing, in June 2022.

Tingshu Wang/Reuters/Alamy
Purple

In October, a startup called Jidu Automotive, backed by Chinese AI giant Baidu and Chinese carmaker Geely, officially released an autonomous electric car, the Robo-01 Lunar Edition. In 2023, the car will go on sale.

At roughly US $55,000, the Robo-01 Lunar Edition is a limited edition, cobranded with China’s Lunar Exploration Project. It has two lidars, a 5-millimeter-wave radars, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and 12 high-definition cameras. It is the first vehicle to offer on-board, AI-assisted voice recognition, with voice response speeds within 700 milliseconds, thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8295 chip.

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