The Chevy Volt claims North American Car of the Year honors, further enhancing its reputation.
It was a virtual slam dunk for the two winners in this year’s North American Car and Truck of the Year balloting, both of which handily outscored their otherwise well-received competitors for the coveted trophies.
Chevrolet Volt overwhelmed both the Hyundai Sonata and the Nissan Leaf, collecting N.A. Car of the Year honors; while the Ford Explorer was named Truck of the Year, pulling more votes than both of its competitors – the new Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango – combined.
The 2011 NACTOY race was especially notable for highlighting some of the most dramatic shifts to sweep through the auto industry in decades. On the car side, the plug-in hybrid Volt and battery-electric Leaf are ushering in a new era dubbed the “electrification” of the automobile. Even the Sonata now offers a more conventional hybrid version, one reason it landed as one of the finalists, according to NACTOY jurors.
On the truck side, all three entrants were, to be precise, not quite trucks, instead migrating from standard body-on-frame platforms to more fuel-efficient, fun-to-drive car-based crossover platforms.
“Our challenge,” in developing Explorer was “reinventing the SUV for the 21st Century, said Ford’s President of the Americas Mark Fields.
Ford "reinvented the SUV for the 21st Century," declared President Mark Fields.
The Explorer might have given up a wee bit of its extreme off-road capabilities, but jurors felt it more than made up for that by improving features, like fuel economy, ride and comfort, that most buyers care about.
Volt’s win on the car side is the latest in a series of victories for the new battery-based sedan. It was also named Green Car of the Year, as well as Motor Trend Car of the Year, but General Motors officials saw the latest trophy as a particular victory considering the breadth of U.S. and Canadian media that the 49 NACTOY jurors represent.
“This is the essence of the new General Motors,” proclaimed the maker’s product and technology czar, Tom Stephens, clearly emotional as he leapt up to claim the acrylic trophy. It was an undisguised reference to the dramatic changes that have swept through the company since its 2009 bankruptcy. Stephens said Volt’s success was all the more dramatic considering the project very well could have been scrapped in the bid to save GM.
Ironically, GM had, until recently, often been derided by critics as being an obstacle to the switch to cleaner automotive powertrain technology. Now it is one of its most active proponents.
“The electrification of the automobile, from my standpoint, is not a fad,” declared Stephens. “It is here to stay.”
Volt’s victory over the Nissan Leaf does, in some ways, reflect the continuing skepticism about battery power, however. The GM offering, while not a pure battery-electric vehicle, also does not succumb to the limited range issues of a pure BEV. Now, with the latest endorsement, GM is hoping it will be able to push Volt into a more mainstream market.
This is the fourth time in the 18 years of NACTOY that GM has won car of the year honors, the last being for its Chevrolet Malibu.
Ford, meanwhile, has taken truck honors seven times, most recently in 2010 with its Transit Connect van. Ford, in fact, swept the NACTOY balloting last year, also winning the car award with its Fusion Hybrid.