- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2000

Safety is a hot issue with many female car buyers. That Mercedes-Benz has a history of innovation in safety features is one reason women are drawn to the three-pointed star. (Not that the snob appeal of the elegant emblem has not also stirred their souls.)
But with the advent of two new C-Class sedans just now in the showrooms, Mercedes is not emphasizing safety, even though the company plans to make a stronger overture than usual to the female market, having taken note of its increasing affluence.
So has M-B spurned safety as a selling point? Decidedly not. It is the company's belief that safety is a given. "Security" is the new buzz word. "Our purpose is to provide features that relieve a driver's anxiety," according to Ken Enders, vice president of marketing of Mercedes-Benz USA.
More women than ever are driving long distances alone, or with children or elderly family members aboard. Being stranded on the highway because of bad weather, tire trouble, running out of gas or involvement in a crash is therefore a growing concern.
How comforting it is to the woman at the wheel to know that alone or burdened with responsibility of others she may be, she has the power to summon help with the push of a button.
The genie she summons is known as Tele Aid, which was first introduced on the 2000 S-Class sedans and will now be in all 2001 Mercedes-Benz models. This year it incorporates remote diagnosis, emergency door unlocking and theft alarm notification. Many of the services are not new but Mercedes-Benz is the first to make them standard. What does all that mean to the female driver in trouble on the road? It depends on the trouble.
If she is lost she can press the "SOS" button over the rearview mirror and be told exactly where on the planet she is within a car length. The folks who answer the call are, in M-B parlance, "response specialists." They know exactly where the button pusher is, thanks to the car's built-in Global Positioning System unit. The driver can then be instructed how to get to somewhere she would rather be.
Those responding to the SOS button can also send local police or other emergency assistance directly to the car, because part of being specialists means knowing who to call and where to locate the car.
Usually the button must be pushed to reach the Tele Aid personnel: This is no Big Brother snooping unbeknownst to the driver. However, if any of the many air bags deploy, Tele Aid automatically establishes contact with the driver to ascertain what, if any, assistance is needed. If no verbal response is received, help is automatically dispatched to the GPS location.
Recently, an octogenarian driver forced into a deep ditch in Florida spent a harrowing three days trapped in her wrecked car before she was found. With a system like Tele Aid, the hardy soul would have been located in short order. Not such a dramatic story, but a lot less discomfort.
Tele Aid has two less urgent buttons. One is marked with a tiny wrench. Once she presses that button, the driver is in contact with Mercedes-Benz Roadside Assistance. Those folks can either dispatch help or talk the driver through whatever trouble she is having.
Pressing another button marked "i" connects the user with the Mercedes-Benz Client Assistance Center. Questions about the car can be answered, rather like having a talking owner's manual. How much air for the tires? What weight oil?
The driver merely presses buttons. No cell phone numbers needed. The cellular connection is a built-in feature with redundant, crash-worthy transmitters. Except for the dreaded keys-locked-in-the-car drill. (She's outside the car, remember?) She'll need a phone and a personal code to make certain she has a right to be in the car. If she is found deserving, the car door is unlocked remotely.
Vehicle theft tracking is an additional benefit of Tele Aid. This feature using the car's GPS can help authorities locate the vehicle when it is reported stolen.
Another thing about the new C-Class: the driver can tailor certain features to fit her preferences. Take those interior lights that go on automatically when the ignition is turned off. They are helpful only if you like being highlighted as a woman alone in an expensive car. Feel more secure without them? Mercedes lets you change that. Now that's a star.

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