Manufacturers aren't afraid to acquire startups if they see chances to explore new business models, either.
This was evident last year when Daimler AG, looking to expand its reach in the mobility segment, scooped up intermodal transportation app RideScout for an undisclosed sum.
Automakers also are open to investing in startups even if they don't acquire them.
GM Ventures has invested in companies that specialize in areas such as wireless charging for mobile devices, biofuels and solid-state batteries. General Motors formed its venture capital subsidiary in 2010.
Working with startups not only exposes automakers to new technology, it introduces them to new ways of looking at problems. At the same time, automakers have to school eager startups about the inner workings of mass production -- a lengthy process that involves finding larger suppliers to integrate startups' new technologies into vehicles.
One key challenge lies in discovering startups that are the real deal -- and not just duds with an idea.
"If you can identify which of these startups have the right ideas or right plans that align with the interest of the car companies, you can support them with projects and pay for proofs of concepts to stimulate and give them some lifeblood so they can get to that point in which they get to ignition and liftoff," said Roger Lanctot, an associate director for consulting firm Strategy Analytics. Then "they can survive to the point where they get to a truly commercializable idea."
One example of automaker outreach to the startup world is sprouting in the heart of the Motor City.
Ford Motor Co. and Honda R&D Americas are among the corporate sponsors of Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit, a business incubator launched in June in a 10,000-square-foot office at Ford Field, home of the NFL's Detroit Lions. Ten startups with inventions such as a car-sharing platform for classic cars and a social ride-sharing app have settled in Detroit for the summer.
The startups will get three months of training in business development, customer acquisition and executive recruitment. The session culminates with a Demo Day on Sept. 10 in Detroit.
Techstars is a startup accelerator that runs programs in cities around the world, including London, Berlin, New York and Boston.