BMW and Daimler, the world's top luxury car makers, have announced alliances with suppliers, talking up the virtues of having a bigger pool of engineers to develop a self-driving car.
But another motive behind these deals, executives and industry experts said, is a concern that robocars may not live up to the profit expectations that drove an initial investment rush.
Carmakers are increasingly looking to forego outright ownership of future autonomous driving systems in favor of spreading the investment burden and risk.
The trend represents a clear shift in strategy from little more than a year ago when most automakers were pursuing standalone strategies focused on tackling the engineering challenge of developing a self-driving car, rather than on the business case.
"Although it is a substantial market, it may not be worth the scale of investments currently being sunk into it," said a board member at one of the German carmakers, who declined to be identified because the matter is confidential.
Dozens of companies - including carmakers and tech firms like Google and Uber - are vying for a market which, according to consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, will only make up about 10 to 15 percent of vehicles in Europe by 2030.
There are sure to be losers.
"It's impossible for me to believe there will be 50 successful autonomous vehicle software producers," said John Hoffecker, global vice chairman of Michigan-based consulting firm AlixPartners.
In July last year, BMW became the first major carmaker to abandon its solo development of self-driving cars in favor of teaming up with chipmaker Intel and camera and software manufacturer Mobileye to build a platform for autonomous cars technology by 2021.
The decision followed a trip by senior executives to visit start-ups and suppliers to gauge BMW's competitive position.
"Sitting at other companies, one rattles off the technological challenges and safety aspects, and you come to realize that many of us are swimming in the same sludge," Klaus Buettner, BMW's vice president of autonomous driving projects, said.
"Everybody is investing billions. Our view was that it makes sense to club together to develop some core systems as a platform."
Daimler's Mercedes-Benz has since combined efforts with supplier Bosch, three months ago, while Japanese carmaker Honda has said it is open to alliances in the area of autonomous cars.
Even deep-pocketed tech firms are teaming up. San Francisco-based transport app operator Lyft and Alphabet's self-driving car unit Waymo pooled their resources in May.