Self-driving cars: Trusting Silicon Valley over car makers; Tesla and Elon Musk; Mercedes pulls ad

Welcome to another edition of self-driving technology’s fits and starts.

In the wake of a fatal crash of a Tesla Model S on Autopilot in May — which the feds said this week also involved speeding  — and the inevitable increased scrutiny of autonomous-vehicle technology, people still trust Silicon Valley more than car companies when it comes to developing such technology.

Citing surveys conducted by San Francisco consulting firm AlixPartners both before and after the Tesla crash, the Wall Street Journal reports that “the results underscore the concern among conventional auto makers that they are perceived to be behind” Tesla, Google and other tech companies in the autonomous-driving race. The surveys showed that 41 percent of 1,500 respondents said they trusted Silicon Valley companies most to develop the technology.

It might be tough for the car companies to hear — from General Motors to BMW to Honda, they’re all investing in autonomous-driving tech.

Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz has pulled a TV ad in the United States that touted the automated driving features in its E-Class models.

“Given the claim that consumers could confuse the autonomous driving capability of the F015 concept car with the driver assistance systems of our new E-Class in our ad ‘The Future,’ Mercedes-Benz USA has decided to take this ad out of the E-Class campaign rotation,” the company said in a statement, according to Reuters. Consumer Reports — which recently urged Tesla to rename Autopilot — had asked the government to look into Mercedes’ ad campaign. The technology provides driver assistance but is not meant to mislead people into thinking the car is fully autonomous, Mercedes said.

Now we circle back to Tesla and its Autopilot, which is the technology made up of cameras, software and sensors that can help with some automatic steering, braking and changing lanes.

Some current and former Tesla employees tell CNNMoney they “struggled” as CEO Elon Musk pushed Autopilot technology forward despite some safety-related concerns. A former Autopilot engineer said he was so concerned about Autopilot he was “scared someone was going to die.” (Last year, he was fired two months after being pulled over on suspicion of driving while drunk; he said he was testing Autopilot.)

Companies that are working on autonomous technology have touted safety as one of their main driving forces. So have Tesla and its chief executive, who has said one fatal crash after 130 million miles of Autopilot driving compares favorably with human drivers’ record. In addition, Musk wrote last week that it would be “morally reprehensible to delay release simply for fear of bad press or some mercantile calculation of legal liability.”


Photo: A Google self-driving car travels eastbound on San Antonio Road Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 22, 2015 in Mountain View, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)


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