DETROIT - The Chevrolet Volt has won yet another major award: The North American Car of the Year.

The Volt beat out two other finalists, the Hyundai Sonata and the battery-powered Nissan Leaf.

The North American Truck of the Year is the Ford Explorer, which beat out the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Dodge Durango. It was Ford's third consecutive year to win Truck of the Year.

The announcement was made at the 2011 North American International Auto Show last month, where General Motors first showed the Volt as a concept car four years ago.

Tom Stephens, General Motors' vice chairman of product development, declared that the automaker, which received assistance from the U.S. government as it went through bankruptcy restructuring in 2009, is able to produce the best cars with innovative technology.

"When we announced this car several years ago at this show, there was a lot of skepticism among all the press," Stephens said. "And to be here today ... and have the honor of being named North American Car of the Year, I think, says it all."

After nearly four years of anticipation, many car critics are saying the Volt's performance is impressive. With a starting price of about $41,000 before a $7,500 federal tax credit, the Volt travels between 25-50 miles on an electric charge before a gasoline-powered generator switches on to produce more electricity. Since its introduction in December, Chevrolet has sold 326 Volts.

The extended-range plug-in car also has been named Motor Trend Car of the Year and Automobile Magazine's Car of the Year.

The North American Car and Truck of the Year awards are prestigious because they are given by a jury of 49 veteran automotive journalists from Canada and the United States. To be eligible, vehicles must be "all-new" or "substantially changed" from the previous model.

"This kind of reception really does humble me and General Motors," Stephens said. "When we announced it, you could tell by the skepticism that it was really a moon shot. And in fact, I think today I would tell you that yes, it was a moon shot, but we landed it."

The Truck of the Year, the 2011 Ford Explorer, was launched in December. A media drive late last year showed that it easily travels over deep sand ruts and steep hills even though it is built off of a car platform - the same one as the Ford Taurus sedan. Dealers from California to Pennsylvania say the Explorer shows signs of being a hit with customers.

The Explorer also gets 25 miles per gallon on the highway and 17 mpg in the city, putting it at the head of its class for fuel economy.

DETROIT (AP) - The 2011 Chevrolet Volt got another marketing jolt Monday, when it received the North American Car of the Year.

The car that runs on electricity for 40 miles before a backup gas engine kicks in beat out the Nissan Leaf, another electric, and Hyundai Sonata in the annual ceremony on the first day of media previews for the Detroit auto show.

The Ford Explorer won the truck of the year, the third year in a row the Dearborn-based automaker nabbed the honor. Truck finalists were the Dodge Durango, the Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Forty-nine auto journalists from the U.S. and Canada made the picks. The vehicles are judged on innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value.

It's the latest in a string of accolades for the Volt, which went on sale in limited markets in December and costs $40,280. It was named the Green Car of the Year at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November and Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine named the Volt the 2011 car of the year the same month.

General Motors Co. Vice Chairman Tom Stephens said the Volt "represents the soul" of the new GM, on the rebound after enduring a government-led bankruptcy in 2009. GM sold between 250 and 350 Chevy Volts in December and Nissan's sales totaled less than 10 Leaf sedans in the past two weeks. Production for both is slowly ramping up.

It will be well into 2012 before both the Volt and Leaf, which costs $32,780, are available nationwide. Early demand is strong: About 50,000 people already are on waiting lists.

The Volts are being assembled in Detroit. GM predicts it will sell 10,000 of them in 2011 and between 35,000 and 45,000 in 2012. By way of comparison, Chevrolet sold 187,250 Malibu sedans in the first 11 months of 2010 with sticker prices that start at $21,975.

Stephens said the Volt is not a "science experiment" - but "meant to be a high-volume vehicle" as the industry makes early moves beyond petroleum as a primary fuel source.

Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, said the company reinvented the SUV with the Explorer, basing it on car underpinnings and improving its fuel economy over the old model. Customers, he said, wanted a rugged vehicle that can also handle suburbia.

Awards are often used by automakers in advertising.

Last year's winners were both Ford vehicles: the Fusion Hybrid midsize sedan and Ford Transit Connect. This is the 18th year for the picks.

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