The development costs of many major league engineering projects have long been beyond the capabilities of single companies. Aeroplanes are a good example.

Today, Airbus products are a co-operative venture involving France, Spain, Germany and the UK. The last all-British military aeroplane was probably the Hawker Siddeley Hawk, which took to the skies in 1974.

Subsequent military aircraft – such as the 1970s SEPECAT Jaguar and Panavia Tornado – were designed and built by a consortium of nations. Even the mighty US economy is sagging at the bill for the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which could come in at a staggering £263bn over the whole life of the programme.

The auto industry isn’t quite at the point of needing such massive transnational co-operation or mega-orders from government, but it is also reaching a critical point in terms of development costs as global governments demand the ‘greening’ of the car industry.

It is possible, of course, for a single healthy company to lead the way in a new technology, as Toyota did with hybrid drivetrains. But what happens when it is not clear which new eco technology to invest in?

Probably the most famous technological consumer durable face-off was between two video recorder systems: VHS and Betamax. But there have been plenty of other technological dead-ends. Video discs died a death and Sony’s digital recording medium Mini Discs came and went, as did other forms of recording.