The 2011 Chevrolet Volt got another marketing jolt Monday, named North American Car of the Year at the auto show in Detroit.

The car that runs on electricity for 40 miles before a backup gas engine kicks in beat out the Nissan Leaf, another electric, and Hyundai Sonata in the annual ceremony on the first day of media previews at North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center.

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This is the fourth time General Motors has won the award.

GM Product Development Chief Tom Stephens says the Volt is selling in small numbers now, but he says this extended-range electric vehicle has a big future.

“Right now in our industry we’re about ninety-six percent dependant on petroleum. And, going forward, I don’t think that’s a sustainable model,” Stephens said.

Stevens says this, and other awards like Motor Trend Car of the Year, shows that the Volt is a real car, not a science experiment.

Also announced Monday morning, the Ford Explorer has been named 2011 North American Truck of the Year.  It’s the seventh time a Ford has secured the award, and the third year in a row.  Last year the Ford Transit Connect was the winner.

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Other truck finalists were the Dodge Durango and the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas, said the company reinvented the SUV with the Explorer, basing it on car underpinnings and improving its fuel economy over the old model. Customers, he said, wanted a rugged vehicle that can also handle suburbia.

Forty-nine automotive journalists select the winners.  The vehicles are judged on innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value.

NAIAS will be open to the public Jan. 15-23.  Click here for your guide to the auto show.

Click here for complete auto show coverage.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.