DETROIT – Hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV) technology wins another important endorsement with Toyota Motor Corp.’s Prius winning the prestigious North American Car of the Year award at the North American International Auto Show here.
Ford F-150 wins 2004 North American Truck of Year, Toyota Prius (below) named American Car of Year.

The all-new 2004 Prius – the second generation of Toyota’s groundbreaking hybrid sedan – has enjoyed critical acclaim since its launch last year. The vehicle has been lauded by environmental advocates as proof high-efficiency, low-emissions HEV technology can satisfy mainstream customers, and the NACOTY award appears to bolster that assertion.

“It validates the hybrid powertrain as a legitimate system of the future,” says James E. Press, chief operating officer, Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc.

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co.’s completely redesigned F-150 underscores its longstanding dominance in the light-truck market by winning the 2004 North American Truck of the Year award

“The steering and suspension of the new F-150 is unrivaled in the pickup world,” says NACOTY judge Chris Jensen of Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, and “a homerun for Ford,” says another judge.

The NACOTY jury chose three finalists for its Car and Truck of the Year awards. The Prius won over the Mazda RX-8 sports car and the Cadillac XLR roadster. The F-150 beat finalists, the Nissan Titan and Cadillac SRX, to be North American Truck of the Year.

The 2004 NACOTY/NATOTY awards mark the eleventh year for the competition, which is modeled after the European Car of the Year program. The jury is comprised of 49 full-time automotive journalists from the U.S. and Canada. Last year’s respective NATOTY and NACOTY winners were the Volvo XC90 and Mini Cooper/Cooper S.

Bill Visnic, Ward’s senior technical editor, is among the 50 judges on the NACOTY/NATOTY panel.