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Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano are unveiled at Detroit auto show

The Volt is named car of the year. Also, Ford announces its first plug-in electric hybrid, the C-MAX Energi, and says it will hire 7,000 more workers in the next two years.

January 11, 2011
  • Jim Federico, executive director and chief engineer for General Motors, speaks about the new Buick Verano sedan during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Jim Federico, executive director and chief engineer for General Motors,… (Jeff Kowalsky / Bloomberg )

The North American International Auto Show in Detroit kicked off Monday with many of the major automakers rolling out or unveiling vehicles ahead of the official public opening of the annual auto showcase this weekend.

Here are some of the notable announcements made Monday:

Chevrolet unveils new Sonic

Chevrolet revealed its latest small car. Going into production later this year for the 2012 model year, the Sonic will be available in sedan and hatchback versions and use the same two engine types offered for its Cruze: a turbocharged 1.4-liter with about 138 horsepower and a 1.8-liter estimated at 135 horsepower.

Designed to blend the practicality of a small car with a fun driving experience, the Sonic's suspension was tuned by Corvette engineers to give its ride and handling a sporty feel, the automaker said.

A direct competitor of the Ford Fiesta, the Sonic will offer best-in-segment cargo capacity in both the four- and five-door models, Chevrolet said, adding that it will be equipped with remote start, heated front seats and a sunroof.

-- Susan Carpenter

GM shows off new Buick Verano

Hoping to broaden the appeal of its Buick division to younger buyers, General Motors Co. unveiled its new Buick Verano compact car.

GM sees the car as a key component to reviving the Buick brand, which, thanks to new vehicles such as the large LaCrosse sedan, the Enclave sport-utility vehicle and the mid-size Regal sedan, was one of the fastest-growing lines among major automakers in the U.S. last year.

Although the brand has developed a reputation for building reliable vehicles, Buick has struggled for years with an aging customer base. Only in the last year has it seen the average age of its buyers decline.

GM is counting on the sporty Verano sedan to bring more younger buyers into the Buick showroom, customers who also might be considering imports such as the Volkswagen Jetta or even the more expensive Lexus IS sports sedan. The Verano is based on GM's German-designed Opel Astra, a popular European car.

The Verano also rounds out Buick's lineup.

"Our Buick lineup was too narrow. We need to appeal to a broader customer base," said Tom Stephens, GM's vice chairman.

It will come standard with 17-inch alloy wheels and a 2.4-liter, 180-horsepower, four-cylinder engine that is rated at 23 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway. Buick also will offer a speedier turbocharged engine that will produce 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

"This will be like a sporty European Opel but with a quieter ride," said Jim Federico, GM chief engineer.

-- Jerry Hirsch

Chevrolet Volt wins car of the year award

The Chevrolet Volt was named the 2011 North American car of the year.

The Volt, a hybrid that runs on electricity for 40 miles and then uses a four-cylinder gasoline engine as an electric generator to extend the range by 300 miles for long trips, beat out the all-electric Nissan Leaf and the Hyundai Sonata.

Ford Motor Co.'s redesigned Explorer crossover vehicle was named truck of the year.

Both awards are presented by a jury of 49 automotive journalists and compiled by Deloitte, the national accounting firm.

Dan Akerson, chief executive of Chevrolet owner General Motors Co., said: "Since development began, we believed the Volt had the potential to transform the automotive industry."

This was the fourth time GM has won the award.

Previously, the Volt was named Motor Trend's 2011 car of the year and Green Car Journal's 2011 green car of the year.

The Explorer's award was the seventh time Ford had won the truck award. Last year, its Transit Connect commercial van won. The Explorer edged out the Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee, the other truck finalists in the competition.

-- Jerry Hirsch

Ford announces plug-in electric hybrid

Ford announced its first plug-in hybrid production electric vehicle. Based on the recently announced five-seat C-MAX multiactivity vehicle the manufacturer will begin selling in 2012, the C-MAX Energi will be capable of traveling more than 500 miles using a 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine, lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor.

Ford also announced a basic hybrid version, the C-MAX Hybrid. Both vehicles will be available in North America in 2012.

The C-MAX Energi will operate similarly to the Chevrolet Volt, running in pure-electric mode before switching over to its Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine. Ford says the C-MAX Energi will recharge 100% overnight using a common household 120-volt outlet.

The C-MAX Hybrid will deliver better fuel economy than Ford's Fusion Hybrid, which, at 41 mpg, is the most fuel-efficient sedan on the U.S. market today. The C-MAX Hybrid targets 47 mpg.

The C-MAX Energi and Hybrid will incorporate a new MyView feature that will inform drivers of the electrical demands of the accessories they are running, such as air conditioning, that reduce fuel economy. They will also include a Brake Coach feature that will enable drivers to optimize their use of regenerative braking, which recaptures kinetic energy and feeds it back to the battery.

-- Susan Carpenter

Ford to hire more workers

Ford also said it planned to hire more than 7,000 workers in the next two years, including engineers with expertise in battery-powered cars.

Ford will hire 4,000 factory workers and 750 engineers this year and add 2,500 hourly workers next year, Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, said.

-- Bloomberg

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