Hyundai Motor Co. saw its foray into the luxury market rewarded Sunday when its Genesis sedan received the South Korean automaker's first North American Car of the Year award.
The Genesis narrowly beat out the Ford Flex, a seven-passenger crossover vehicle, for the honor. But Ford Motor Co. won top truck honors for its Ford F-150 in the awards presented on the first day of media previews for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, said Hyundai's win in the car category illustrates the competitiveness of the North American market.
"The best keep getting better," Fields told reporters after the awards were presented. "I think what it says is it's a broad playing field out there. And those people with a focus on the customer can win."
The other finalist for car of the year was the Volkswagen Jetta TDI. The two other North American Truck of the Year finalists were Chrysler LLC's Dodge Ram pickup and Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz ML 320 Bluetec.
It's another big honor for the F-150, which is the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. and was named 2009 Truck of the Year by Motor Trend magazine. Fields said the award should help bring more people into Ford's showrooms and help its dealers.
He said it also shows that Ford can compete.
"It means that we can produce the best in the world, and I think that's a shot in the arm for the entire domestic industry," Fields said.
Hyundai launched the rear-wheel-drive Genesis a year ago, a car it saw as its ticket into the ranks of the world's top-end automakers. The company bills it as a competitor to luxury models such as the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW AG's 5-Series and Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus GS.
"Genesis ... really does make a new beginning for our company," Hyundai Vice Chairman H.S. Lee told reporters in accepting the award. "It represents the engineering excellence that our company has tried for and it is a game-changing vehicle which will define our product going forward."
The awards are given by 50 automotive journalists from the U.S. and Canada who represent magazines, television, radio, newspapers and Web sites. They're designed to recognize vehicles based on factors that include innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value.
To be considered for the honor, which often is used in automakers' advertising, vehicles must be new or substantially changed from the previous model. More than 50 new vehicles were eligible this year, but jurors winnowed that list to 14 cars and 11 trucks before the finalists were named last month.
The North American honors have been given annually since 1994.