North American Car and Truck of the Year Finalists Reflect Changes in the Auto Industry

The vehicles chosen as finalists for the 2011 North American Car of the Year and North American Truck of the Year awards have been announced, and they reflect some interesting trends in the automotive industry.

For the first time in the 18-year history of the awards, this year’s finalists for North American Car of the Year all feature some form of electrical propulsion. They include General Motors Company’s 2011 Chevrolet Volt extended-range hybrid, Nissan Motor Company’s Leaf all-electric vehicle and Hyundai Motor Company’s Sonata hybrid.

General Motors Company’s director of product marketing for the Volt, Tony DiSalle, said the finalists reflect how “the consumer mindset for high efficiency has gone mainstream.”

The finalists for 2011 North American Truck of the Year include Ford Motor Company’s Explorer crossover vehicle and Chrysler Group’s Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango sport-utility vehicles.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango reflect Chrysler’s new product direction since emerging from bankruptcy under the control of Fiat SpA last year, and their selection as finalists in the Truck of the Year category is being heralded by the automaker.  In a statement, Jeep brand’s president and CEO Mike Manley said, “Consumers are clearly noticing the unique blend of on-road driving dynamics, capability, efficiency and craftsmanship that our premium Jeep icon delivers.”

Last year, Ford Motor Company swept the awards as the Ford Fusion Hybrid took top honors as the 2010 North American Car of the Year, and the Transit Connect was named 2010 North American Truck of the Year.

Auto industry analyst Charlie Vogelheim said the selection of three electrified vehicles as finalists for the Car of the Year category surprised him because “They represent such a small segment.” Vogelheim said, “Alternative powertrains are an important direction, but they are so small in terms of overall volume.”

In the U.S., hybrid vehicles account for less than three percent of the total market, and all-electric vehicles account for a fraction of that percentage. The Volt hybrid began arriving in dealer showrooms earlier this month, and Nissan made the first U.S. delivery of its new Leaf all-electric vehicle last week.

Finalists for the 2011 awards were selected by a jury of 49 distinguished American and Canadian automotive journalists and judged on their overall design, handling, value, driver satisfaction and technical innovation.  The winners of each award will be announced at the Detroit auto show in January.

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