Explorer, Volt named vehicles of the year

DETROIT – The 2011 Ford Explorer was named Truck of the Year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday, beating out the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Dodge Durango.

The Chevrolet Volt was named the 2011 Car of the Year.

The auto show begins with a media preview Monday and Tuesday that will be attended by about 5,000 journalists from around the world. The show will be open to the public Jan. 15-23.

“The entire industry is seeing a welcomed resurgence and as always, NAIAS is at the forefront as the primary forum for opinion leaders from the international media, global automotive leaders who are the decision makers of the industry and the thousands of knowledgeable consumers looking to purchase a vehicle,” said Barron Meade, vice-chairman, 2011 NAIAS.

The auto show will feature press events by more than 15 manufacturers as more than 30 brands will showcase an anticipated 30 to 40 worldwide debuts in addition to some of the industry’s top suppliers.

While it will skip this year’s show, Nissan Motor Co., announced Sunday it would be returning to the Detroit event next year, ending a three-year absence.

“In 2009, we were asked if the industry would survive; and 2010 saw a building of that momentum,” said Meade. “In 2011, exhibitors and the NAIAS will deliver on the promise of the hard work and innovations alluded to along the way.”

In fact, the future continues to look brighter for an industry that nearly crashed and burned in one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression.

In the United States, new car and light truck sales are headed for double-digit percentage gains in 2011,” Paul Taylor, chief economist of the National Automobile Dealers Association, said Sunday.

With the average age of cars and trucks on the road today at more than 10 years, Taylor said Americans will need to replace their aging vehicles. This fact, combined with low financing rates and wider credit availability, will help boost new-vehicle sales nearly 12 per cent this year, he said.

Sales will reach 12.9 million new cars and trucks in 2011, Taylor said. Last year, 11.55 million light vehicles were sold.

Canadian consumers are also returning to dealerships, with enhanced incentives boosting sales by seven per cent in 2010, according to Carlos Gomes, senior economist, Scotia Economics. A further two per cent increase is projected for 2011, lifting purchases to 1.59 million units ‹ in line with the average of the past decade.

While most major automakers, including the Detroit Three, enjoyed double digit sales gains in 2010, Toyota was the notable exception.

Once the gold standard for quality and safety, Toyota has seen its reputation tarnished by a series of recalls for various issues, including sticky gas pedals.

The controversy has affected sales, which were flat in the U.S. last year and fell by 16.2 per cent in Canada.

But Toyota executives remained confident about the automaker’s stable of vehicles.

Photograph by: Rebecca Cook, Reuters