By GRACE WYLER
General Motors’ Chevrolet Cruze is drawing rave reviews, and the automaker has now garnered another prestigious achievement. The Chevrolet Volt, GM’s highly anticipated electric car, has been named Motor Trend magazine’s 2011 Car of the Year.
The announcement comes just weeks before the vehicle is due to hit dealer showrooms.
The coveted industry award was presented Tuesday at a ceremony at GM’s wind tunnel in Warren, Mich. The ceremony was surreal, said Bob Boniface, lead designer for the Volt and a Poland native.
“The Volt was done during very difficult times for GM,” Boniface said. “The fact that we soldiered through the rough patch and got the car out in record time — it shows that we are doing the right thing.”
Motor Trend’s award recognizes the Volt — a battery-powered car with a backup gasoline engine — for its advanced engineering, design and unique approach to fuel efficiency.
The Volt can run up to 50 miles on an electric charge before the backup engine takes over to power the car for up to 300 miles.
The Volt is the “world’s first intelligent hybrid,” magazine editors wrote in their review of the car.
“It is a fully functional, no-compromise compact automobile that offers consumers real benefits in terms of lower running costs,” the review said. “The investment in the technology that drives this car is also an investment in the long-term future of automaking in America.”
The accolades are good news for GM as it prepares for Thursday’s initial stock offering, boosting the Volt’s image as a symbol of the company’s turnaround since its 2009 bankruptcy.
“We learned a lot beyond just the electrification of the automobile,” Boniface said. “Efficient design, efficient engineering, efficient manufacturing — those will carry over to GM’s gasoline-powered vehicles.”
The Motor Trend award is a notable testament to GM’s achievements in the electric-vehicle segment, said James Bell, executive market analyst with Kelley Blue Book.
The Volt can be a “replacement vehicle” for another car because its gasoline-powered backup engine enables the electric vehicle to take lengthy trips, Bell said.
“The Volt could take you anywhere you wanted to go at any time,” Bell said. “That is part of being an American driver, that freedom.”
The car’s advanced engineering accounts for the Volt’s $41,000 price tag, although the cost is expected to come down as GM improves battery technology and powertrain systems. A $7,500 federal tax credit will partly offset the high price, and the Volt remains cheaper than many traditional hybrids now on the market, GM says.
The Volt beat out 20 other finalists for this year’s Motor Trend award, including the Lordstown-built Cruze and luxury cars such as the Audi A8 and the Jaguar XJ. GM last received the award for the Cadillac CTS in 2008.
Motor Trend’s 2011 Car of the Year report will be featured in the January issue of the magazine and can be viewed online at www.motortrend.com.