Paul Sancya  /  AP
Chrysler executives pose with the Chrysler 300, which was awarded the North American Car of the Year during media previews Sunday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
updated 1/10/2005 7:19:47 PM ET 2005-01-11T00:19:47

America's "in" sedan and the first gas-electric hybrid sport utility vehicle were named North America's top vehicles Sunday at the North American International Auto Show.

The Chrysler 300 — which becomes the 300C when it's equipped with Chrysler's powerful Hemi V-8 engine — collected its latest honor as 2004 North American Car of the Year. Ford Motor Co.'s new Escape hybrid SUV garnered the award as 2004 North American Truck of the Year.

The last time entries from Detroit's Big Three won both car and truck of the year was 1996.

The awards were announced during the first day of media previews at the auto show, one of the industry's most prestigious stages, covered by 6,600 journalists from more than 60 countries.

To be eligible, a vehicle must be substantially changed from the previous model or a completely new vehicle.

The 300, whose unique look has captured buyers from the hip-hop set to Baby Boomers, already had claimed Motor Trend's 2005 Car of the Year award, among other honors since its April introduction.

"Chrysler has single-handedly reinvented the large, V-8-powered American sedan," said Matt DeLorenzo, Detroit editor of Road & Track magazine. "With its bold looks, growling Hemi power and enough attitude to cut a rap record on its own, the Chrysler 300C is a bad boy for hipsters. Yet, with its affordable sticker price and V-6 optional engines, it appeals to traditional full-size American car buyers."

Dubbed "baby Bentley" by some because of its likeness to versions of the luxury English brand, the 300 beat out the Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Mustang.

Analysts, owners and dealers say one of the 300's biggest attractions is its price tag — $23,000 to $38,000 depending on options — which most consider reasonable given its styling and content.

The car features a large, distinctive grill — similar to a Bentley — and a long nose and short rear that gives it a bold stance.

Chrysler sold about 107,000 300s in 2004 — 90,000 more than the model it replaced. It was a big factor in Chrysler's 3.4 percent rise in U.S. sales in 2004, the only one of Detroit's Big Three to post a year-over-year gain.

Chrysler Group, whose other brands are Dodge and Jeep, is the Auburn Hills-based division of German-American automaker DaimlerChrysler AG.

All three of the truck finalists were Ford products — the Escape hybrid; Ford's new crossover vehicle, the Freestyle; and the Land Rover LR3 SUV, part of Ford's luxury Premier Automotive Group.

Ford has said the gas-electric hybrid system in the front-wheel-drive Escape allows the vehicle to get 35 to 40 miles per gallon in city driving, compared with 20 miles per gallon in a 2005 Escape with a V-6.

Because of the relatively new technology, the hybrid version of the Escape is more expensive than the standard version. Its base price of $27,000 is about $3,300 more than a 2005 Escape powered by a V-6 engine.

The North American honors have been given annually since 1994 by a group of about 50 full-time automotive journalists from the U.S. and Canada. They scrutinize each vehicle's design, safety, handling and innovations. The judges also consider driver satisfaction and value.

Last year's car of the year was the Toyota Prius, the world's first commercially mass-produced hybrid car. The truck of the year was the Ford F-150, America's top-selling pickup.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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