An eight-passenger sport utility vehicle, the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid from General Motors Corp, won the "Green Car of the Year" award at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Thursday.
The Tahoe Hybrid will be the first full-size hybrid SUV on the market when it goes on sale in early 2008. It is also the first model from GM that uses a hybrid system developed jointly with BMW AG, Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz, and Chrysler.
"They've proven that they can make beautiful cars, strong cars, keep the size, keep the safety, and all those kinds of things, and at the same time be more fuel efficient," said California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who toured the show after the presentation of the award.
The award is presented by Green Car Journal, a California-based trade magazine. The panel included famed car designer Carroll Shelby, late-night talk show host Jay Leno and representatives of four environmental groups.
"People don't think green when SUVs are concerned and for generally good reason, since SUVS often get poor fuel economy," said Green Car publisher Ron Cogan.
"Chevrolet's Tahoe Hybrid changes this dynamic with a fuel efficiency improvement of up to 30 percent," he added.
The Tahoe Hybrid gets 21 miles per gallon in the city, the same as a Toyota Camry sedan, and 22 mpg on the highway.
GM had two other cars among the five finalist models in the competition: the Saturn Aura Hybrid and the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid.
"That is something I think nobody would have expected a few years ago," said Bob Lutz, vice chairman and product chief at GM, in advance of the announcement.
Award comes after controversy
GM has come under intense criticism, particularly in California, for its decision to scrap the all-electric EV1, a controversy documented in the film "Who Killed the Electric Car?"
But Lutz said having three of five finalists showed the progress the automaker is making in improving its fuel efficiency across its vehicle lineup.
GM has also announced plans to introduce a hybrid version of its Cadillac Escalade luxury SUV and its Silverado pick-up truck.
"When you think of a hybrid, you think of a small car that has been built from the ground up to eke out the most miles," said GM spokesman Dave Barthmuss. "But now you can have that kind of system in a large vehicle."
Schwarzenegger, who personally helped develop the gas-guzzling Hummer but now is a big advocate for fuel economy and alternative fuels, said California's high standards are a driving force for green car innovation.
"I think, because we in California have been out there so strong, forcing the manufacturers to come in with clean vehicles, that is why they are coming in with clean vehicles," he said.