Beating Tesla on home turf, Mercedes-Benz will sell auto-driven cars in California

Authorities approve Mercedes-Benz Level 3 Drive Pilot system on designated highways and under certain conditions.
Sejal Sharma
Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot system
Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot system


In a major blow to Tesla, Mercedes-Benz has become the first carmaker to be given permission to sell or lease its auto-driven vehicles to the public in California, which is Tesla’s largest market.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has approved the luxury automobile company’s SAE Level 3 Drive Pilot system on designated highways and under certain conditions without the active control of a human driver, said the state agency in a press release.

Mercedes-Benz is the fourth company to receive an autonomous vehicle deployment permit in California and the first authorized to sell or lease vehicles with an automated driving system. A deployment permit authorizes a company to make its autonomous technology commercially available outside of a testing program.

In a press release, Markus Schäfer, a member of the Board of Management at Mercedes-Benz, said, ”Drive Pilot uses a highly sophisticated vehicle architecture based on redundancy with a multitude of sensors enabling comfortable and safe conditionally automated driving. The certification by the authorities in California and in Nevada once again confirms that redundancy is the safe and thus the right approach.”

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) defines six levels of automated driving systems ranging from 0 (fully manual) to 5 (fully autonomous). Level 3 is conditional automation, in which the vehicle must have environmental detection capabilities. The car is able to perform most tasks, but the human should be ready to take over in case of an anomaly.

These levels have been adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation

Listing the conditions of the permit, the DMV said that the Level 3 Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot system can only operate on certain highways during daylight at a speed not exceeding 40 miles an hour. The permit doesn’t allow the Drive Pilot system to be operated on city or county streets, in construction zones, during heavy rain or heavy fog, on flooded roads and during weather conditions that are determined to impact the performance of Drive Pilot. 

Additionally, vehicle owners have been asked to watch a mandatory video explaining the capabilities of the Drive Pilot system and to learn how to engage and disengage the technology before Mercedes-Benz activates it in the vehicle.

Tesla’s auto-driving cars run off course

Tesla has been fronting and propagating the self-driving technology for some years now, and California accounted for about 16% of its global deliveries in 2022, according to Reuters.

There have been major issues reported in Elon Musk's Tesla cars, with videos showing its Full Self-Driving (FSD) software mowing down child mannequins and ignoring safety warnings during tests.

The company even recalled over 362,000 cars to fix flaws that can risk crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating around 830,000 Tesla vehicles after a string of crashes into parked emergency vehicles.

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