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 2 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 company intends to use the award in its marketing, especially as it rolls out other new models, said Lex Kerssemakers, president and CEO for the Americas. "It's a very well-known award, and I think people look at it," he said. "Customers need references. It's a very competitive environment outside."
The award for the XC 90, he said, validates Volvo's newly designed architectures and environmental engines and transmissions. "As we are using in the future the same platforms, the same drivetrains for all the other cars to follow, this shows that were absolutely on the right track," Kerssemakers said.
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.