DETROIT – As automakers stare down looming fuel-economy and emissions regulations, as well as existing safety requirements, technologies are converging to ensure those goals are being met, says a panel of experts during the 2014 SAE World Congress here.

Meeting future standards will be challenging, but government studies show the technology exists for automakers to meet the requirements, says Steve Ridella, director-Applied Vehicle Safety research program, NHTSA.

Some of those technologies include advanced-powertrain vehicles, including plug-in and all-electric models, as well as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure systems, aerodynamic improvements and, ultimately, autonomous vehicles, he says.

“Many states have efforts under way, and more are coming,” Ridella says. “Issues of automation include human factors, technology and regulatory requirements, and other big things are electronic control systems and cybersecurity requirements.”

NHTSA is developing tests and regulations for emerging technologies, including public policy issues regarding liability and privacy, he says.

If autonomous vehicles were perfected, they drastically could reduce congestion resulting in improved fuel economy. When combined with V2V and V2I systems, accidents largely could be avoided.

Jay Joseph, assistant vice president-American regulatory office for American Honda, says the automaker embraces all new emerging technologies, but wants to make sure consumers will accept them as well.

“Elegant solutions that don’t necessarily attract customers are no solution at all,” he says. “Over time, the market will pick winners and losers based on cost, performance, maintenance and warranty and consumer preference.”

Joseph says Honda is working on how to best implement new technologies without leading to driver distraction. He cites a study that indicates when a driver has too little to do, he becomes lethargic and complacent, which poses a safety risk. Conversely, when a driver is bombarded with too much information, he becomes overwhelmed.

“So we want to seek that balance point, and I think there is a lot of room to work with the driver in the loop to get to that point,” he says.

Regulations have added substantial stress to automakers that have to work not only to meet the requirements, but also stand out from the competition, Joseph says.

“Increased competition to express brand identity through the interior is a little bit at odds with the notion of a great convergence,” Joseph says. “It will require more research and innovation to inform us of how to get there safely.”

Swamy Kotagiri, chief technology officer for supplier Magna, says it will take automakers, suppliers and government bodies working together for a convergence of technologies enabling regulations to be met.

It’s important such collaboration take place, he says, as young customers essential to the future of the auto industry demand a greater degree of connectivity. He cites a study showing only 25% of Gen Y customers say they can live without their smartphone, while 60% believe they can live without a car.

“That doesn’t mean they want to give up the freedom of transportation, but they want connectivity or it will be a difficult proposition,” he says.

bpope@wardsauto.com