Updated at: 01/14/2013 12:07 PM
By JEFF KAROUB
(AP) DETROIT - The two American automakers that emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2009 have earned bragging rights for a pair of new vehicles.
General Motors’ Cadillac ATS and Chrysler’s Ram 1500 pickup on Monday won the 2013 North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year. The winners were unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
"We worked tirelessly with blood, sweat and tears to come through the hell we’ve been through," Fred Diaz, president and chief executive of the Ram brand, said after the award was announced. "What a difference three years makes."
Other truck and utility finalists were the Ford C-Max and Mazda CX-5. The other car finalists were the Ford Fusion and Honda Accord.
This is the 20th year of the awards, voted on by 49 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada. A vehicle must be all new or substantially changed to be eligible.
The word utility was added to the name this year because of the rising number of crossover vehicles.
The choices represent an aim to recognize the vehicles’ overall quality: The judges evaluate finalists on value, innovation, handling, performance, safety, and driver satisfaction. Organizers accept no advertising, though carmakers try to capitalize on the marketing value of the honors.
The bragging rights don’t necessarily translate into a sales boost. Some winners in the past have experienced higher sales in the year following the award but others have seen no significant bump and or watched sales drop.
Still, the awards provide some vindication for GM and Chrysler, which went through bankruptcy protection after the industry collapsed in 2008.
Diaz said the award comes at a key time for the company as pickup truck sales have started to rebound. He expects the award to help the Ram, which garnered the award in 1994, generate even more sales.
Sales of full-size pickups rose 9 percent last year, but growth accelerated in the last three months of the year. Sales of the refurbished Ram, which gets up to 25 mpg on the highway, rose nearly 20 percent.
Diaz said there’s a direct correlation between the housing industry and pickup sales, and housing has been on the rise recently.
"From a timing standpoint, I really think we’re hitting the mark just right," he said.
David Leone, GM’s executive chief engineer for performance luxury vehicles, said the company worked tirelessly for five years to bring the Cadillac ATS to market. That included months where no product was in the pipeline _ and even the survival of the company was uncertain.
Leone said he expects the award will help propel sales for the small luxury car, which will compete with the BMW 3-Series.
The award’s history shows an edge for U.S.-based automakers. They have won the car award 10 times and the truck award 12 times. European makers have won the car four times and truck three times. Japanese have won car three times and truck four times. A Korean automaker, Hyundai, has won the car honor twice.
AP Auto Writer Tom Krisher contributed to this report.
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