DETROIT – For only the third time in the 17-year history of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards, a single auto maker captures both categories.

Ford Motor Co. sweeps the awards with its Ford Fusion Hybrid sedan and Transit Connect commercial van.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” says an emotional Ford President-Americas, Mark Fields, during his acceptance speech here at the North American International Auto Show.

Ford products beat out General Motors Co.’s highly sculpted Buick LaCrosse sedan and Volkswagen AG’s Golf compact car in the car category, as well as the GM Equinox and Subaru Outback cross/utility vehicles in the truck category.

This is the fourth time a hybrid-electric-vehicle has won and the second HEV win for Ford, which now has the most hybrid wins of any auto maker. The Ford Escape Hybrid won truck honors in 2005.

Judges say they were impressed not only with the Fusion Hybrid’s fuel economy of 41/36 mpg (5.7-6.5 L/100 km) city/highway, but also the car’s practicality and fun-to-drive characteristics.

The choice of the commercially oriented transit van puzzled some critics, but judges raved about the fact it fulfills an unmet need in the business community. It also creates a new U.S. vehicle segment: a small, easy-to-drive utility truck for entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Ford also argues the Transit Connect, powered by a 2.0L inline 4-cyl engine, delivers twice the fuel economy of fullsize vans.

“By the end of my test drive, I was trying to come up with a small business idea to justify buying one,” says Jayne O’Donnell, a freelance auto writer who was one the 49 journalists selected to judge the awards.

dwinter@wardsauto.com