Daimler starts pilot testing of self-driving Mercedes S-class taxis in U.S.

FRANKFURT — Daimler is testing autonomous taxis in the U.S. despite new CEO Ola Kallenius saying that the automaker will “rightsize” its spending level on self-driving technologies.

Daimler’s autonomous-driving technology will more likely be apply to commercial vehicles for freight companies on long haul routes than taxis, Kallenius told journalists at the company’s investor day in London last month.

The company has started self-driving taxi tests in California to gather user feedback, people familiar with the matter told Automotive News Europe.

“We have not put the project on ice. We are looking at where we can improve efficiency and gain synergies so we don’t unnecessarily duplicate or triplicate our development work,” said one of the people. “This pilot program is about capturing the user experience.”

The fleet includes about 30 vehicles, mainly Mercedes-Benz S-class sedans equipped with sensor arrays including long-distance, laser-scanning lidar, the person said, saying the test could last for several months.

Although the cars can pilot themselves, a safety driver is behind the steering wheel at all times. Although the number of users will initially be limited, the ultimate purpose of the pilot program is mainly to gain knowledge of what customers want or demand from a self-driving car.

Daimler has already been testing Level 4 cars on public roads in Stuttgart, Germany. The California tests are the first time that occupants who are not employed by the company ride in the vehicles.

Daimler Mobility, which has a captive finance unit, is assisting with its expertise in fleet management to better understand the difference in expectations from conventional taxis.

The sources gave no details of the location nor extent of the tests.

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