In 1888, Bertha Benz made the first road trip, from Mannheim, Germany, driving a pioneering car built by her husband, Karl.
In 2013, Mercedes-Benz retraced Bertha Benz's route using an autonomous S-class concept that piloted the 60 miles without driver assistance. But that feat received only a fraction of the publicity Tesla garnered this year when it offered what it billed as the first production car that could drive itself -- the Model S fitted with Autopilot.
Except it wasn't really the first. German makers, particularly Mercedes, have offered similar semiautonomous technology in production vehicles for a while. But they have reaped considerably less media praise than Tesla, which dared to expand the hands-free element.
And that's what worries Germany.
German automakers and suppliers fear that America's audacious tech companies are grabbing the initiative within the auto industry as cars become more about software and successful data manipulation and less about traditional hardware.
Their response is to try to ingrain that risk-taking Californian ethos into their own companies.
"In Europe, everything is forbidden until it is allowed. In America, everything is allowed until someone says, 'It's a little bit dangerous, so let's regulate,'" Audi CEO Rupert Stadler told journalists at the Frankfurt auto show this fall. "This is a cultural element we have to confront."
Granted, Stadler's comment takes on a different dimension following parent Volkswagen AG's acknowledgement that it cheated on U.S. emissions tests, but the sentiment remains: We must be less staid.
In the new r&d center just opened by German supersupplier Bosch at Renningen near Stuttgart, that desire to push staff beyond the traditional German rigidity is symbolized by a clock hanging in a Silicon Valley-inspired "creativity room."
It doesn't tell the right time, a provocative move in any engineering environment, let alone a German one. "People are clearly irritated by the clock, but it changes their perspective," Bosch's head of r&d, Michael Bolle, told journalists at the opening.