Honda, Volvo take top awards at the Detroit auto show


Associated Press

DETROIT

After a few years of Detroit domination, two foreign automakers nabbed 2016 North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year honors.

A panel of about 55 independent automotive journalists selected the Honda Civic and Volvo XC90 on Monday. The winners were unveiled at the start of press previews for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Civic bested the Chevrolet Malibu and the Mazda MX-5 Miata, and the XC90 edged out the Nissan Titan XD and Honda Pilot. Chevy was a particularly strong contender, with two additional cars on the pre-finalist short list of 10. It was the first time in the 23-year history of the awards program that a brand had three representatives on the short list, and General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra was standing close by in case the big honor came her company’s way.

Instead, the Civic became a two-time winner.

“What a great competitive set to be in with Malibu and Miata. All great cars,” said John Mendel, executive vice president of Honda’s U.S. operations. The Civic also garnered the award in 2006. Still, he pointed out the victory lap will be brief, as the award is “added pressure” to the development team already working on the next-generation Civic.

Volvo’s award should help the automaker as it tries to re-establish itself in the U.S. market after being sold in 2010 by Ford Motor Co. to Chinese investors.

The Detroit automakers came away with double-barreled wins in 2013 and 2014, and took top truck honors last year with the Ford F-150. The last year both awards went to foreign manufacturers was 2012, when the Hyundai Elantra and Land Rover Evoque won.

A vehicle must be all new or substantially changed for eligibility.

The awards program launched in 1993 and patterned itself after the European Car of the Year. Organizers accept no advertising, though carmakers try to capitalize on the marketing value of the honors.

Automakers plan to debut 45 new vehicles at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which opens to the public Saturday. The Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback, which will be built in Mexico for the U.S. market, is one of the vehicles making its debut.

A hatchback version of the Cruze puts GM on equal footing with the Ford Focus and other compacts that come in hatch and sedan versions. The Cruze sedan, built in Lordstown, debuts early this year, with the hatch coming out in the fall.

Both have a new 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine with stop-start technology that can get up to 40 miles per gallon on the highway. Price for the hatch wasn’t announced. The sedan starts at $16,620 excluding shipping. The problem for both: small cars aren’t selling well in the SUV-crazy U.S.

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