2009 Car of the Year: Hyundai Genesis

Luxury Hyundai takes prestigious award as the 2009 Detroit Auto Show kicks off. F-150 wins for trucks.

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By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com

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DETROIT (CNNMoney.com) -- The Hyundai Genesis won the prestigious Car of the Year Award Sunday at the start of media preview days for the 2009 Detroit Auto Show. The redesigned Ford F-150 won the Truck of the Year award.

To be eligible for the top prize, a vehicle had to be all-new, completely redesigned or "substantially changed," and available to customers during calendar year 2008.

From among those vehicles, a jury of 50 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada narrowed the list down to three cars and three trucks that were eligible for the final award.

The three finalists for Car of the Year this year were the Genesis, Ford Flex, and Volkswagen Jetta TDI. The Jetta is powered by a diesel engine.

The nominees for truck of the year were the F-150, Dodge Ram and Mercedes-Benz ML320 BlueTEC. Like the Jetta TDI, the ML320 BlueTEC is a diesel-powered version of the Mercedes SUV.

Genesis a jump

The Hyundai Genesis represents a big leap for Korea-based Hyundai. The sedan is part of Hyundai's attempt to reach upscale drivers while still maintaining the brand's roots with low-cost economy models such as the Accent.

With prices starting at about $32,000 for V6-powered versions, the Genesis looks and drives much like a Mercedes-Benz or Lexus. While it has the size of one of those brands' top-of-the-line cars, though, it's similar to one of their smaller entry-level models.

Hyundai executives considered starting a totally new brand, as Toyota did with Lexus and Honda with Acura, but decided instead that it made sense to create new models under the Hyundai name.

Hyundai has sold large luxury cars overseas for quite some time, but this was the brand's first attempt to launch such a car in the United States.

F-150 top truck

The Ford F-150 has been the top-selling vehicle of any kind in America for the last 27 years. It managed that in 2008 despite truck sales that were depressed by high gas prices early in the year and by the overall economic crisis.

The redesigned 2009 model features the new, angular flat-nosed look of Ford trucks. A new Chassis was designed with a lighter weight for better fuel economy. The new F-150 also boasts safety improvements. It won a Top Safety Pick Award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Like the other Detroit automakers, General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) and Chrysler, Ford (F, Fortune 500) has been working to shift its focus to cars, although trucks remain a mainstay. At this year's Detroit Auto Show, Ford is also unveiling the 2010 Ford Taurus, a car that will attempt to win back more car buyers. Of the three U.S. automakers, Ford has been the only one not to request federal funding to stave off bankruptcy.

But winning the North American Car or Truck of the Year Award doesn't always mean a huge leap in sales. Last year's winner, the Chevrolet Malibu, was a huge success for General Motors. But the year before, GM's Saturn Aura, a car very similar to the Malibu, won the award but was been considered a sales disappointment. To top of page

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