DETROIT -- The Chevrolet Volt sedan and Ford Explorer crossover were named 2011 North American car and truck of the year today by a panel of automotive journalists.
The Volt, Nissan Leaf and Hyundai Sonata were finalists for 2011 North American Car of the Year, while the Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango were North American Truck of the Year finalists.
General Motors Vice Chairman Tom Stephens said the Volt's win marked a milestone for the company as it reinvents itself in the wake of 2009's U.S. government-sponsored bankruptcy reorganization.
“The Volt really represents the soul or essence of the new General Motors,” Stephens said at the ceremony. “GM's vision is to design, build and sell the world's best vehicles and the Volt team has really delivered.”
The North American Car of the Year award also highlighted the automotive industry's shift in support of electric vehicles. The Volt is a plug-in hybrid with an internal combustion engine that generates electricity after the battery is nearly depleted, and the Leaf is an all-electric car.
Both models went on sale in December. GM said it sold 326 Volts during the first month of sales. Ford sold 10,099 Explorers, a 53 percent gain from the same month a year earlier.
Even the Sonata on display at the award ceremony featured a hybrid powertrain.
“From my perspective the electrification of the automobile is not per se a fad. It is here to stay," Stephens said. “The Volt is not a science experiment. It's meant to be a high volume vehicle and as the market demand grows we have to be flexible in new GM to satisfy that growth.”
This is the third consecutive year Ford has taken the top truck category. In 2010, the Transit Connect took the prize and in 2009 the award went to the F-150. It is also the seventh time in 18 years that Ford has won North American Truck of the Year.
Mark Fields, Ford president of the Americas, accepted the award on behalf of the automaker.The new Explorer is a crossover based on a car platform, whereas its Grand Cherokee and Durango competitors are SUVs.
Fields said the Explorer stands out from the competition because it is such a different vehicle from the longtime Ford favorite.
“We're really reinventing what the SUV means and giving what our customers want,” Fields said. “It shows our plan is working, it shows that Ford can compete, not only here but around the world, and it shows we're a country and a company that is falling in love again with bringing out fantastic cars and trucks.”
The awards are judged by 49 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada -- representing magazines, newspapers, Web sites, TV and radio.
The criteria used to judge the winners include innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for the dollar.
The 2011 car semifinalists were the Audi A8, Buick Regal, Chevrolet Cruze, Chevrolet Volt, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Sonata 2.0 T Hybrid, Infiniti M37/56, Jaguar XJ, Kia Optima, Mazda Mazda2, Nissan Juke, Nissan Leaf, Volkswagen Jetta and Volvo S60.
The truck semifinalists for 2011 were the Dodge Durango, Ford Edge, Ford Explorer, Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Tucson, Infiniti QX56, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Kia Sorento, Kia Sportage, Lincoln MKX, Mercedes-Benz R class, Porsche Cayenne, Toyota Sienna and Volkswagen Touareg.
Last year, in addition to winning North American Truck of the Year, Ford also won North American Car of the Year with the Fusion. It was only the third time in 17 years that one automaker won both awards. Honda Motor Co. won two honors in 2006 and General Motors Co. claimed both honors in 2007. American automakers have won the car honor 10 times. European automakers have been selected four times and Japanese automakers have won three times. A Korean car has been selected once.
Domestic automakers have dominated the North American Truck of the Year award with 12 wins. Japanese automakers have been selected four times and European automakers have won twice.
The jurors include Edward Lapham, executive editor of Automotive News.