Photo: AP

Auto and tech companies are feverishly working to develop and perfect self-driving cars, but in due time, the industry’s going to turn into a raging bloodbath, according to a new study, with “billions and billions” of dollars wasted on boneheaded moves that go nowhere.

The study, from consultant AlixPartnersLLP, estimates that more than 50 major competitors involved in the battle right now will be “reduced to handful of winners over the next decade,” as Bloomberg puts it.

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“You’ve got 50 major players trying to develop autonomous software and you’ll probably get three or four of them who will win,” John Hoffecker, global vice chairman of AlixPartnersLLP, reportedly said in a speech on Tuesday before the Automotive Press Association in Detroit. “There will be billions and billions of dollars lost in bets that were put in the wrong place.”

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Traditional automakers—General Motors, Volvo, Ford, and more—have staked out ambitious goals to deploy self-driving cars to the public for limited purposes by early next decade. Tesla thinks it can have fully-autonomous cars on the road by 2019. Audi wants drivers of the new A8 to feel comfortable enough to watch TV at speeds below 37 mph.

All this amounts to a cutthroat deathmatch of sorts that’s going to cost those in the back of the pack a lot of cash to catch up—and might even claim the lives of fledgling automakers.

Here’s more from Bloomberg:

Those who lose out won’t die off, especially the established car companies, Hoffecker said. But they’ll be racing to catch up in self-driving technology after having invested a lot of cash in the race to be first and likely will have to buy technology from the winners, he said.

“Whoever can get to autonomous first,” Hoffecker said, “will have a major advantage.”

AlixPartners conceded that it’s way too soon to know what companies are going to prevail. High-profile litigation between Google’s self-driving car project and Uber, for example, could put a significant dent in the ride-hailing company’s own autonomous vehicle ambitions, despite that it’s already invested heavily in the effort.

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“The number of people who will succeed in autonomous in the future is going to be a handful,” Hoffecker said. “So you’re going to find 90 percent of the investments, where people are spending tens and hundreds of millions-plus, will be completely thrown away.”

If you needed exhibit A, here you go—and it’s not even 2018.