Detroit, Mich - It's here, in the snow and biting cold of early January in Detroit, where auto legends are forged. On the stages and in the hallways of the North American International Auto Show, hopes and plans take form in metal, glass and plastic.
But this is also where the glass shatters, legends break and giants fade into the mundane hum-drum of appliance sales. Over the span of recent years, Chrysler and Ford have been on the bitter end of that, so it is refreshing and appropriate that these two automotive giants enjoy the recasting of their legend together, with two great vehicles built with innovation, designed with imagination and developed with time and care.
Ford Escape Hybrid
The Ford Escape Hybrid, as the 2005 North American Truck of the year, represents what's possible with innovation - now and in the future. A true hybrid, it is a project that Ford has stuck to despite long odds and longer hours. The Escape Hybrid has the highest fuel economy numbers for an SUV, as certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (36 mpg city/31 mpg highway/33 combined in front-wheel-drive configuration; 33 mpg city/29 mpg highway/31 mpg combined for the four-wheel-drive model). As a full hybrid, Escape Hybrid is able to run on its gasoline engine or on its electric motor. It can drive in electric mode during slower speeds and does not need to engage the internal combustion engine as long as there is enough power stored in the battery. In addition, the full-hybrid system incorporates regenerative braking technology, which funnels energy generated from the brakes into the battery and stores it for use later on. The Ford Escape Hybrid produced 97 percent less hydrocarbon and oxides of nitrogen emissions than vehicles that meet today's nationwide Tier I emissions standard. That's clean enough to qualify the 2005 Escape Hybrid for the stringent Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) standards. Originally introduced in 2001 at the Los Angeles International Auto Show, the Ford Escape Hybrid is the first hybrid SUV - a trumpet call that Toyota and Honda can't match.
"The commitment to hybrid drive in a category that has long needed improved fuel economy finds solid expression in the Ford Escape Hybrid," said Dan McCosh, North American Truck of the Year jury member. "The drivetrain runs flawlessly, and provided both high mileage and good response on the highway. It's a turning point in SUV design and development."
2005 Chrysler 300
The Chrysler 300/300C is just as much a turning point for Chrysler - and for the business of selling large sedans to the American public. A sexy, sleek car with cascades of power and a style that immediately harkens back and looks forward, the 300 is a car meant to be remembered - even those not inclined to spring for the V8 version. The look of the Chrysler features a long hood and a short deck that, with 18-inch wheels, give Chrysler 300 a unique presence. With the inclusion of a 5.7-liter HEMI V-8, the Chrysler 300C produces 340 horsepower and 390 lb.-ft. of torque, and goes from zero to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. The 2005 Chrysler 300C is also the first modern volume production vehicle in North America to feature cylinder deactivation. The Chrysler Group Multi-Displacement System (MDS) turns off the fuel consumption in four cylinders of the 5.7-liter HEMI engine that much power is not needed. Combined with Chrysler's rear-drive architecture - front wheels steering, rear wheels driving -- the Chrysler 300 offers improved handling. No matter how impressive the technology, the Chrysler 300/300C will be forever known by its styling.
"See it in the metal and it's like the Green Hornet with a makeover," said North American Car of the Year jury member Howard Walker. "From that massive egg-crate grille, to its pumped -bicep wheel arches and chiseled rear, the 300 screams bold. The big, luxury American sedan has just made a comeback."
For Ford and Chrysler, winning the North American Car and Truck of the Year Awards is affirmation of their product-led comeback, and signals proof that automakers criticized for selling cars at the lowest common denominator have turned toward putting imagination and innovation back into the dealer showrooms. It's proof that cars should be more than mechanical mobility contraptions, and, indeed, that consumers are now demanding that the cars they buy are engineered to the highest power, and express a style of their own.
Since 1993, the North American Car of the Year and the North American Truck of the Year have been awarded by 48 full-time automotive journalists from Canada and the United States. While the awards are announced at the North American International Auto Show, the show does not give the awards.
Photos by Erik Hanson