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Daimler’s safety technology could enable autonomous driving if the law allows it (Photo: Daimler)

DETROIT -- Daimler’s r&d chief, Thomas Weber, expects autonomous driving to be available in cars in the not too distant future.

“By 2015 the preconditions for autonomous driving will be in place,” said Thomas Weber in an interview during the Detroit auto show here.

Weber said new technologies already available in Daimler’s Mercedes models and elsewhere have laid the groundwork for cars that, under some conditions, can move forward without human intervention. Daimler has an adaptive cruise control system that can bring a car to a full stop when the car in front halts. The car starts up again when the road clears.

Autonomous driving would be ideal on congested roads where cars are moving forward at mostly slow speeds and have to brake frequently.

Weber wouldn’t say when he thought autonomous driving would be legal anywhere in the world. It would require legislative changes to allow a driver to take his or her hands off the wheel.

The Daimler executive also cited strong progress in reducing Mercedes vehicles’ CO2 emissions, which is required under European law. Weber said Mercedes fleet average CO2 emissions have been lowered by 35 pc between 1995 and 2011. “In 2016, that reduction from 2011 levels will be 45 pc and it will come close to 5o pc,” he predicted.

Mercedes vehicles have lower CO2 emissions because they are lighter and burn less fuel. They are also more aerodynamic and use more lightweight materials. And more Mercedes models come with hybrid engines.

Daimler showed a full-hybrid Mercedes E 300 in Detroit with average fuel consumption of 4.2 liters per 100km. It will be launched first in Europe.

Daimler also unveiled a new E 400 hybrid model, which will be launched in the US first and in China, Japan and elsewhere later.

-Arjen Bongard