The North American International Auto Show kicks off with the crowning of 2002's North American Car and Truck of the Year winners.

In what appeared a surprise to the large crowd of journalists, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. walks away with the North American Car of the Year honor with its all-new '02 Altima midsize sedan. The Altima bested two other finalists, General Motors Corp.'s '03 Cadillac CTS and Ford Motor Co.'s '02 Thunderbird.

It is the first time a Japanese nameplate has won the North American Car of the Year award, which was first given in 1994.

Any GM disappointment in losing NACOTY to Nissan is soothed by its claim to the North American Truck of the Year with its totally redesigned Chevrolet TrailBlazer midsize SUV. The all-new TrailBlazer has been lauded for its clean styling, efficient packaging and outstanding new Vortec inline 6-cyl. engine, which Ward's last month named as one of its 10 Best Engines of 2002.

GM has a 3-row seating option coming this spring for its midsize SUV platform, which Trailblazer shares with the GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada. Nissan, meanwhile says Altima sales are highly satisfactory and the car is serving as the linchpin in its worldwide resurgence after a wide-ranging restructuring initiated in 1999.

WAW senior technical editor Bill Visnic is one the 49 North American Car/Truck of the Year jurors.