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GM sweeps honors at auto show

At Detroit auto show Saturn Aura tapped as car of year, while Chevy Silverado takes truck of year award; first time GM has swept awards.

By Chris Isidore, CNNMoney.com senior writer
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DETROIT (CNNMoney.com) -- General Motors kicked off the North American International Auto Show by sweeping the show's car and truck of the year awards for the first time in the company's history.

The Saturn Aura won the show's car of the year award, while the Chevrolet Silverado won the truck of the year. The panel of judges chooses among models that were introduced or substantially redesigned in the current model year.

"The Aura is an important step in our ongoing product revitalization plan, and this award is proof that our efforts are paying off," said a statement from Jill Lajdziak, general manager for Saturn.

While Honda Motor swept last year's award when the Civic sedan and Ridgeline pickup won the two awards, GM had never taken both honors in the same year.

The Aura's win was the first time GM had won car of the year since the Corvette won in 1998. And to win the award, it had to beat out the redesigned Toyota Camry, the nation's best-selling car model, which had just won the car of the year honors from Motor Trend, as well as the Honda Fit, the subcompact car recently introduced to the U.S. market.

Karl Brauer, editor-in-chief of Edmunds.com and one of 49 jurors voting for the award, said that Saturn could see a bigger lift from the honor than Silverado, since Silverado was already well established with large pickup buyers, while the award could get sedan buyers to take a new look at Saturn.

"It's an undeniable statement about where Saturn has gotten," he said. "You could say it's long overdue, but they are now producing a competitive vehicle in a very competitive class."

Brauer had voted for the Fit, which he said was more of a breakthrough vehicle in the the fuel-efficient sub-compact category; fuel efficiency became a far more important consideration in the last year in the face of record high fuel prices.

The Silverado did not face competition in this vote from the Tundra, the first full-size pickup from Toyota that came out too late to be considered by the judges. Brauer said he has since driven the Tundra and if he had been able to include that in his consideration, he would have split his vote and given the Tundra a slight edge.

But he said there are a number of factors, including the truck's interior, in which he would still give the Silverado the edge.

"I think it would have been a very close vote," he said.

The Silverado's win was a setback for Ford Motor, which had two finalists for truck of the year - the Ford Edge and the Mazda CX-7. (Ford owns a controlling interest in Mazda and the CX-7 and Edge share some components.)

"For Chrysler and Ford, their most dangerous factor is the reemergence of GM," said David Cole, the chairman of the Center for Automotive Research. "After GM's near brush with death, they got their act together and become a more formidable force. That's more dangerous for the other domestics than the international automakers."

Brauer said he believes that voting for the Ford Edge was lower because it is a crossover vehicle, a more car-like SUV that is still considered a light truck in the industry's classification.

"I've talked to enough jurors to know that plays a role," he said. "A crossover being in the truck of the year category is an automatic disadvantage. But for some people, myself included, felt the Edge still wasn't a cutting edge vehicle, for lack of a better word. It's a well-executed crossover, just like a bunch of other well-executed crossovers."

Motor Trend and Edmunds.com are participants in CNNMoney.com's All-star Car Show Blog.

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