Chevrolet Malibu, Mazda CX-9 Grab Car/Truck-of-the-Year Kudos

January 13, 2008
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There’s always a bit of anticipation as the turnstiles get ready to open for the annual North American International Auto Show, but this year’s event had an even greater air of suspense than usual.

All eyes focused on the finalists for the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards, the opening event of this year’s show. Of the three car and three truck nominees, General Motors had grabbed an unprecedented four nominations, two in each category.

When the envelopes were opened, the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu grabbed the much-sought Car of the Year trophy, while the Mazda CX-9 took honors as Truck of the Year.

“This is a tremendous day and an awesome honor for Chevrolet,” proclaimed Ed Peper, Chevy’s general manager, as he raced to the stage to grab the NACTOY trophy.

“What a way to start the second 100 years for General Motors,” added the automaker’s “car czar,” Bob Lutz. Lutz has spent the last seven years – ever since he joined GM – insisting there would be a turnaround in the company’s products, and along with a series of other positive, recent developments, the Car-of-the-Year award only underscores GM’s revival.

In fact, the mid-size Malibu sedan has received an array of honors since its debut last year, and GM, on the whole, has won wide praise for the sharp improvement in its quality and reliability. But the NACTOY trophy is particularly well regarded because it’s the result of voting by 45 U.S. and Canadian journalists – and in full disclosure, I should mention that I am one of those jurists. The wide breadth of the panel tends to provide a much better sense of how any individual protect is being perceived in the market.

And perception is a critical factor for GM. “The antagonism towards GM was like a three-foot concrete barrier,” added Lutz, suggesting that Malibu’s win was the equivalent of “a missile blasting through.”

Actually, Malibu has done a good job breaking through to the public on its own. And with demand exceeding availability by a wide margin, the maker is racing to expand production capacity.

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While the win was good news for GM, it certainly didn’t disappoint Mazda to take the top truck trophy. The automaker has never had a serious contender in the segment, at least until now. But like Chevy, Mazda is struggling to keep up with demand for the CX-9 crossover.

“This (award) tells the North American consumer the depth and range of the product Mazda has,” suggested the automaker’s executive vice president, Robert Graziano.

The runners-up in the car category included the Cadillac CTS and Honda Accord. Malibu dominated its competition with 190 points, while the CTS got 165 and Accord 95.

On the truck side, Mazda scored 201 points, overwhelming the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, with 140 points and the Buick Enclave, with 109.

2008 Chevrolet Malibu Road Test. Chevy catches a wave back into the mid-size game. by TCC Team (2007-11-02)

2008 Mazda CX-9 Road Test. Passing the MILF test with flying colors. by Eric Peters (11/5/2007)

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