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Autos evolve as shown by award picks

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Autos evolve as shown by award picks



Of the six finalists for 2011 North American Car and Truck of the Year:

• Three come from automakers that needed government help to survive the financial crisis.

• Four rely on technologies that didn't exist 15 years ago.

• Three embody the shift from old-style workhorse trucks to more efficient vehicles.

The Chevrolet Volt, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango are rolling proof that GM and Chrysler can produce the world's most sophisticated cars and trucks. Decades of bad decisions laid them low, but they've made good use of their do-overs. They introduced excellent vehicles and hired new workers to build them.

The sophisticated drive systems in the Volt and Nissan Leaf should silence critics who dismissed electric cars. The Ford Explorer and Hyundai Sonata 2.0T's direct-injection and turbocharged engine wring new levels of power and efficiency from gasoline-powered engines. Meanwhile, hybrid technology grows ever more deeply embedded in mainstream vehicles; witness, the Sonata hybrid.

All three truck finalists use a unibody chassis instead of a pickup-style frame. The original 1992 Grand Cherokee was one of the first trucks to adapt that structure. The passenger-oriented Explorer and Dodge Durango adopted it to improve their fuel economy and passenger space. The 2011 Grand Cherokee shows it can also be the basis of rugged off-road SUVs.

The times have changed. Automakers and vehicles have changed with them, as the finalists for 2011 North American Car and Truck of the Year demonstrate.

Read more: Mark Phelan: Autos evolve as shown by award picks | freep.com | Detroit Free Press http://www.freep.com/article/20101217/COL14/12170337/Autos-evolve-as-shown-by-award-picks#ixzz18PC9mquj

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