(Bloomberg) -- Three decades ago, an experimental Mercedes-Benz van managed to steer, brake and accelerate on its own. But after the technology was refined enough to put an S-Class sedan through its paces on a highway around Paris in 1994, it was largely set aside as commercially unviable.

Now, the prospect of autonomous vehicles is threatening to upend the auto industry, and instead of an enviable head start, Mercedes is just part of the pack in the race to roll out robo-cars. That’s a thorn in the side for Dieter Zetsche, head of the storied brand and chief executive officer of parent Daimler AG.

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