Monday was validation day for Detroit’s automakers with the Cadillac ATS chosen as the North American Car of the Year and the Ram 1500 as Truck of the Year.
The winners were announced at an event to open the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The ATS won over finalists the Ford Fusion and Honda Accord – the first win for Cadillac in the award’s 19-year history.
On the truck side, the Ram beat the Mazda CX-5 and Ford C-Max Energi, a plug-in hybrid crossover. It was the first truck win for Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler since 1994, the first year of the awards.
The winners were chosen by 49 jurors, veteran journalists who spend a lot of time evaluating each year’s new crop of vehicles.
Mark Reuss, head of North American operations for General Motors, called the Cadillac win a “huge boost from a credibility standpoint.”
“We out-engineered everybody,” Reuss said after the award was announced, adding that the award validates all the hard work by the ATS team.
“A lot of people had written us off, but we went head-to-head with the best.”
Juror Michelle Krebs of Edmunds.com said the judges appreciated that the ATS was moving into a new segment with the small luxury car.
The ATS is a compact car that expanded the brand’s lineup into entry-luxury and takes direct aim at the BMW 3 series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4 and Lexus IS as a world-class competitor.
The Ram is a traditional truck with stop-start technology for better fuel economy as well as an eight-speed transmission and voice-recognition software in the latest version of Chrysler’ Uconnect infotainment system.
Ram chief Fred Diaz was choked up over the pickup’s win. “This is the proudest day in Ram history.”
“It shows the world we’re dead serious about research and development and will make the investment,” Diaz said. “It’s all about the product. Sergio [Marchionne, CEO of Chrysler and Fiat,] pushes us to be the best in the land.”
Diaz said a lot of “blood, sweat, tears…” went into the Ram. The accolade is all the sweeter, he said, given the company’s near-death experience in 2009.
Klaus Busse, who heads interior design for Chrysler, said he was overwhelmed despite knowing the truck had a chance to win.
“We’ve been here many times and didn’t make it,” he said of past truck finalists that did not take home the glass trophy.
Krebs said the judges appreciated the Ram’s true truck qualities as well as the investment the automaker put into the new design.
On the car side, the new Fusion and Accord are in the high-volume, competitive midsize sedan segment. The cars were completely redone; both feature new powertrain options.
The Fusion offers a choice of three gasoline engines as well as a hybrid and plug-in hybrid.
Ford had a finalist in both the car and truck categories for the fifth time in the past 10 years. The Ford C-Max is a new nameplate for North America but is proving to be an instant hit among buyers.
The Mazda CX-5 features the automaker’s SkyActiv technology to improve fuel efficiency.
Detroit Free Press Auto Critic Mark Phelan, who is one of the jurors, voted for the ATS and Ram 1500.