2011 North American Car of the Year – Chevrolet Volt

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Updated: January 24, 2011

The Chevrolet Volt is the 2011 North American Car of the Year.

The industry’s most prestigious product award was presented at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit January 10, 2011. Nearly 50 independent automotive journalists, representing dozens of separate media outlets in the U.S. and Canada, New Car Test Drive among them, cast a series of votes to determine the winner of the title.

We voted for the Volt, but deciding among the candidates for 2011 North American Car of the Year was difficult. The Hyundai Sonata, one of the three finalists, was our pick among, well, normal cars, offering a broad lineup of superb models sporting innovative technology.

The Nissan Leaf is a compelling choice as the first all-electric car sold in America in significant quantities. It drives well and would work well as a commuter car, though owners have to plan a bit more.

The Chevrolet Volt seems the best answer for the times, however. The Volt works just like an all-electric car for the daily commute and many owners may only North American Car of the Yearrarely have to put gas in it. Yet, when needed, the Volt has an engine and a gas tank, so it will never leave its driver on the side of the road due to a lack of conveniently located electrical outlets. The Volt feels like a premium product. It’s remarkably refined and easy to operate.

Volt won the final vote by a wide margin. The Volt won with 233 points followed by the Hyundai Sonata with 163 and the Nissan Leaf with 94. Each of the 49 jurors cast 10 points, though they could be distributed to more than one car.

Here’s what other jurors said about the Volt:

“The Volt seamlessly bridges the gulf between today’s liquid fueling infrastructure and the plugged-in electric future,” wrote Lindsay Brooke for the trade journal Automotive Engineering International. “It doesn’t worry the owner about range, and can easily serve as your only vehicle.”

“The Chevrolet Volt is a breakthrough vehicle that shows that an electrically driven car can be totally practical, and more importantly, the only car a family needs,” wrote John Davis from “Motor Week,” which airs on Speed and PBS. “It provides the typical commuter with tailpipe emission free travel to work and home again, while relying on an efficient gasoline backup system for emergencies and longer trips. The Volt is also exceptionally well executed, especially on the interior. The design is futuristic, yet sensible and downright simple in operation. Also, there are enough electronic displays and gadgets to keep any tech-savvy driver happy, as well as help buyers get the most efficiency out of the car.

John Gilbert, editor of CarSoup.com, said, “The Volt was worth the years of anticipation and marketing hyperbole, with good performance, the security of a gas engine to extend the range of its plug-in electric power, and sleek, contemporary styling.”

Conceived as the General was failing, developed when the company was fighting for its very survival, the Volt is a remarkable achievement,” said Ken Gross, who writes about cars for Playboy. “Forget range anxiety. Its clever combination of an electric motor and a small, fuel-efficient gasoline engine embraces the average commute handily, or takes you over 300 miles on a tankful. The Volt looks, feels and drives like a modern sedan, not an odd-looking hybrid. One of its development engineers proudly stated, ‘it’s not a science project; it’s a real car.’ Amen, brother.”

Jim Mateja from The Chicago Tribune said the Chevrolet Volt is the “best of both worlds, a battery powered car that can run without contributing to MidEast shiek’s 401k plans, yet still capable of traveling on gas when needed to ensure unlimited range and the ability to not only get to Grandmas’s house for Christmas, but to get back again before Easter.”

“The Chevy Volt eliminated my chronic ‘range anxiety’ in the Nissan Leaf and is the right next step,” wrote Jayne O’Donnell, who writes about cars for USA Today. “Sure, it’s pricey, but it’s worth it. Let’s talk about the Leaf when there are charging stations.”

Mark Phelan of the Detroit Free Press said, “The Volt solves the two shortcomings that bedeviled electric cars for a century: range and charging time. Most owners will nearly never use gasoline, but the onboard generator provides juice for drives beyond its all-electric range.”

“The introduction of the Chevrolet Volt marks a historic change in the foundation of the contemporary passenger car, introducing a drive train that enables widespread use of electricity rather than gasoline as the primary energy source,” noted veteran automotive journalist Dan McCosh. “It is a simple, but elegant concept, backing up a battery-powered electric motor with a secondary, gasoline-fueled power plant that operates after the battery is depleted. The backup eliminates worries about what happens when the primary battery runs down while on the road. What makes the Volt a pivotal car, however, is not the concept, but the execution. The system is smoothly integrated, working seamlessly in a manner that fits neatly into the ingrained habits of any average driver. It is tooled on a scale large enough to test the market demand for this kind of alternative. It is costly compared to conventional cars with comparable performance and capacity, but not unreasonable in the upper-middle segment of today’s car market. It thus makes the rather large leap from an intriguing prototype to a fully developed, very practical alternative to dependence on petroleum-based fuels.”

Paul Weissler of the industry journal Motor said, “We’ve debated the ‘what is it’ subject, and my conclusion is that it’s a plug-in hybrid with enough all-electric range to satisfy many one-car-owning commuters. Is the price higher than the most cost-effective approaches to a commute? Well yes (although mitigated by a Federal rebate), but a new automotive purchase is typically beyond pure cost-effectiveness. A car can satisfy a variety of emotional needs, and people spend more than the minimum (often far more) to obtain them. For some buyers, it’s high G-force handling, for others it’s a leather and wood interior that feels like a Fortune 500 company boardroom. And for Volt buyers it’s the chance to at least make a short commute each day without the purchase of gasoline. The Volt is the first plug-in hybrid, with a novel power flow, and for a car manufacturer that emerged from so much turmoil, that is noteworthy indeed. If gasoline prices spike, following the recent trend of crude oil prices, Volt sales could exceed expectations.

Gary Witzenburg, who writes for AutoMedia.com, said, “Because it can run on battery power from the grid for the first 25-50 miles, then as far as needed on electricity generated by its range-extender engine, it’s a non-fuel-burning, tailpipe-emissions-free EV for the first part of each day’s drive, then a fuel-efficient compact sedan the rest of the way. Most importantly, it’s an electric-powered vehicle minus EV ‘range anxiety,’ that sweaty-palm fear of running out of volts before you run out of trip. Neither a pure EV nor a Prius-like parallel hybrid, the Volt is a game-changing range-extender EV that should enjoy a rosy future, especially if GM can get its price down and volume up over the next several years.