The new E-Class is inspected on the eve of the Detroit auto show (Photo: Arjen Bongard)

DETROIT -- Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche showed the new Mercedes E-Class here on the eve of the Detroit auto show, saying the core model is "the very first series-built car that is equipped with car-to-X communication."

Zetsche said the E-Class not only "talks" to other cars, but also can learn, using artificial intelligence technology to take another big step in the direction of autonomous driving.

Self-driving cars need to deploy, so-called "deep-learning computers" that are capable of labeling concepts such as street, vehicle or pedestrian on their own. Such computers, therefore, don't need to be trained or programmed to identify and deal with every detail, Zetsche said.

"With this technology, cars will, for instance, learn to recognize the typical concept of street life in Stuttgart and they will be able to adapt that knowledge to a street in China" or anywhere else in the world, he added.

Artificial intelligence is widely acknowledged as an essential technology on the road to driverless driving. At the CES consumer electronics fair in Las Vegas earlier this week, Toyota unveiled details of its 1 billion dlr investment in a new research operation that focuses on artificial intelligence and robotics.

The new Mercedes E-Class is equipped with various "intelligent" features. Daimler's R&D boss, Thomas Weber, said, the car can adapt and processes can be steered through voice control, the traditional Mercedes Comand controller, or a novel interface consisting of touch control buttons located on the steering wheel.

Second, Weber said at a press briefing here, the E-Class will be able to anticipate events. Using map information and data from other cars, it can drive autonomously and even change lanes at speeds of up to 80 miles and hour. "The E-Class takes the next big step towards autonomous driving," Weber said.

The E-Class has a wide range of new driver-assistance systems on board, including Active Brake Assist, which comes as a standard feature, Attention Assist, which can warn a driver of drowsiness; and Crosswind Assist, which mitigates the effect of strong crosswinds on the car.

Optional functions include Drive Pilot, the next generation adaptive cruise control with an active lane-change assistant; Active Brake Assist, which can detect crossing traffic; Evasive Steering Assist, which helps a driver avoid dangerous situations.

The E-Class can also be equipped with Remote Parking Pilot, which allows the car to be remotely moved in and out of garages and parking spaces. BMW showed a similar feature at CES.

And the E-Class can be outfitted with an integral car-to-X communication module that lets the car communicate with other vehicles nearby and exchange information on, for example, obstacles further down the road.

-By Arjen Bongard