DETROIT – The automotive industry would benefit exponentially from harmonized global fuel-economy and tailpipe emissions testing, as well as a flatter playing field when it comes to setting an individual company’s efficiency bogey, experts tell the SAE World Congress.

Known as a drive cycle among engineers, the process for testing the fuel economy and emissions of a vehicle varies by region.

In the U.S., it’s the Federal Test Procedure and in the European Union it’s the New European Drive Cycle. By 2015, Europe and many other countries such as China, India and Japan are expected to shift to the Worldwide Light Vehicle Test Procedure.

The current patchwork of procedures makes designing global cars and trucks difficult, as well as more costly, because some technologies work better under some drive cycles. In other words, an efficiency-gainer necessary to meet regulations in one region may not be needed in another.

“The drive cycle matters,” says Kregg Wiggins, senior vice president-North America powertrain at Continental Automotive.

The disparity is leading many automakers to examine scalable solutions, such as Continental’s 48-Volt Eco Drive system. Shown at last year’s Frankfurt auto show, the system supplements a vehicle’s traditional 12V electrical network with a 48V structure to accommodate various degrees of hybridization. Even the least-demanding mild-hybrid systems can overly tax a 12V network.

Slated for production in 2016, Eco Drive principally applies to stop-start systems, where it delivers efficiency gains of up to 13%, but in many cases it also could take over a number of electrical functions such as climate control, power steering and stability control.

“It helps bridge the gap between a low-voltage hybrid and a high-voltage hybrid,” Wiggins tells a session addressing regulatory-driven impacts on powertrain.

Louis Bailoni, president-Scenaria, a consulting unit of engineering group AVL, agrees there is no “silver bullet” to global regulatory demands and advises automakers to balance the myriad of challenges between market demands and technology availability.

The key, Bailoni offers, is systems integration and optimization, or “getting to that optimal design solution.”

He warns regulations only will become tougher and more complex, while growing consumer wealth will lead buyers to demand greater vehicle efficiency and performance. Weigh the risk of a potential solution, he adds, using “a good execution of the right processes and tools.”