Here's the big question of the 2016 model year: Will consumers be willing to pay for higher fuel economy?
Andrew Brown Jr., chief technologist at Delphi Automotive, says that depends on payback time, which depends on fluctuating fuel prices.
"Consumers want to get a return on investment in as little time as possible, certainly in less than two years," Brown says.
Some industry sources say increased use of fuel-saving technologies will create scale economies, cutting costs.
Nizar Trigui, director of vehicle energy management engineering for Ford Motor Co., says Ford has certain key technologies that it will use in nearly all its vehicles. They include electric power steering and downsized, turbocharged engines with direct injection.
"We're not doing them like 'onesies' for this program or that; we're trying to do it systematically because that's the best value," Trigui says. "Now your investment is minimized from an engineering point of view. Also, you can leverage volumes with suppliers, so you can bring the cost of technology down."
Others are skeptical.
Paul Haelterman, vice president of global advisory services at CSM Worldwide, says major savings are unlikely. What's more, he says, increasing volume is a big gamble. For example, adding a second production line increases unit costs until that line hits full volume.
"There's a law of diminishing returns that each technology has," Haelterman says. "To say that just by taking more volume you're going to cover costs? No."
But, Haelterman adds, consumers will have limited ability to reject technology needed to meet federal rules. Their only choice may be between different automakers' packages.
For example, an automaker could use a six-speed automatic transmission on a compact car, with a price increase as high as $500, he says. Or it could add a stop-start system to a manual transmission, increasing the price only about $100.
"If you have two competing technologies, and one costs half as much as the other, that's a different situation," Haelterman says. "There could be an example where consumer preferences could modify the take rate for these technologies."
Jay Baron, president of the Center for Automotive Research, a nonprofit research organization in Ann Arbor, Mich., says several fuel economy technologies -- such as low rolling resistance tires, turbocharging, cylinder deactivation and transmissions with six or more gears -- are mature. Major cost reductions are unlikely.
But, Baron adds, a vehicle's price isn't set on a cost-plus basis. "It's based on what the market will bear."