By David Morgan
RUCKERSVILLE, Virginia (Reuters) -- A group of major automakers accounting for more than half of U.S. auto sales will make automatic emergency braking standard on new U.S. vehicles in one of the industry's biggest auto safety moves since it embraced technology to prevent rollovers more than a decade ago.
The car makers, which accounted for 57 percent of car and light truck sales in the United States last year, said Friday they will work with regulators and the insurance industry to roll out collision avoiding braking technology across their lineups over the next few years.
The automakers are Volkswagen and its luxury car division Audi, BMW, Ford Motor Co, General Motors Co, Mazda Motor Corp, Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz,Tesla Motors Inc, Toyota Motor Corp and Volvo AB.
"We are entering a new era of vehicle safety, focused on preventing crashes from ever occurring," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement Friday.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is overseeing the effort, said the collaborative agreement took shape over the last two weeks and that other car and truck manufacturers are still considering joining.
Analysts say it could still take years for automakers to redesign the electrical and braking systems of their cars to install autonomous braking. Among the automotive technology suppliers that could benefit are Continental AG, Robert Bosch GmbH, Delphi Automotive Plc, Denso Corp and Autoliv Inc.
The agreement echoes earlier voluntary moves by big automakers. In the late 1980s, Chrysler began installing airbags in all its vehicles. In the 2000s, GM, Ford and others agreed to make anti-rollover technology standard on most sport utility vehicles. Stability control is now mandatory on light vehicles.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a non-profit group affiliated with the insurance industry, has pushed automakers to install automatic emergency braking by making it a requirement for earning top marks in its influential crash test rankings.
Federal officials say automatic braking can help avoid rear-end collisions, which accounted for one-third of all police-reported car crashes in 2013. Studies, including a recent IIHS report, also show that AEB technology can reduce insurance injury claims by as much as 35 percent.
NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind told reporters Friday that AEB should become standard among the automakers faster than the the seven to eight years it could take to develop mandatory regulations to deliver the technology to consumers.
"It's visible and the pressure's on to make this happen fast," said Rosekind, who announced the agreement at an IIHS safety test facility 100 miles (160 km) from Washington in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. The NHTSA plans to make a series of new auto safety initiatives during the fall, he said.
Only about 4 percent of cars built in North America will have automatic emergency braking, according to the business information firm IHS Inc. Toyota said earlier this year said that by the end of 2017 it would offer such systems in option packages for nearly all its models, with the technology packages ranging from $300 to about $500.
(Additional reporting by Joe White in Detroit; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)