Mercedes-Benz begins testing self-driving S-Class in US

The program is moving forward despite reductions in Daimler's autonomous development spending.

Daimler is apparently moving forward with an autonomous ride-hailing pilot program in the US market, initially deploying a small fleet of S-Class prototypes.

The German automaker has been working on the self-driving sedans for several years. The project has been shrouded in uncertainty since CEO Ola Kaellenius recently said the company is no longer as optimistic about its revenue opportunities, however, bluntly addressing a "reality check" as automakers struggle to catch up with Waymo in bringing the technology to market.

Sources have now told Automotive News Europe that Daimler is not completely turning its back on autonomous technology, leaving the plans unchanged for an exploratory pilot in the US. The Level 4 autonomous systems have already been operating on public roads in Germany. A few dozen vehicles have been brought to California, hosting third-party passengers for the first time as the automaker shifts its focus to rider interactions.

"We have not put the project on ice," the unnamed source clarified. "This pilot program is about capturing the user experience."

Kaellenius spoke of Daimler's reevaluation as rival automakers consolidate their development efforts, a logical strategic shift as the path to commercialization appears to require more funding and take more time than the companies initially believed when pursuing the technology separately.

Daimler apparently believes it can make more money in autonomy by focusing on self-driving long-haul trucks, perhaps acknowledging the steep costs and inherent risk in attempting to catch up with Waymo in the race to autonomous taxis. To be fair, no company has fully deployed a commercial fleet of self-driving vehicles. After the technological barriers are finally overcome, the stragglers will presumably maneuver to partner with or license technology from those that have crossed the finish line.

Read more!