2011 Chevrolet Volt is Motor Trend’s Car of the Year

By Chris Haak

The 2011 Chevrolet Volt has been christened the 2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year.  The award comes as no surprise to many, considering the moonshot that the effort to develop the Volt, meet timelines, and deliver on the program’s objectives – primarily, to allow for about 40 miles of gasoline-free travel between charges, and allow drivers to travel infinitely further beyond 40 miles using the car’s onboard gasoline engine to generate power.

This year, the editors of Motor Trend evaluated 21 new or heavily-updated contenders, but none of the other models in the competition were non-hybrid, non-EV, conventional vehicles.  By their nature, conventional internal combustion-only vehicles are not as complex or sophisticated as a hybrid, and certainly do not require the resources to develop that the Volt consumed.

The MT COTY award has been awarded annually since 1949 to the new or significantly revised car that, in the estimation of the magazine’s editors, blazes a path forward in several categories:

Quality execution of exterior and interior styling; innovation in vehicle packaging; good selection and use of materials.

Integrity of total vehicle concept and execution, clever solutions to packaging, manufacturing and dynamics issues; use of cost-effective technologies that benefit the consumer.

Low energy consumption and carbon footprint, relative to the vehicle’s competitive set.

Primary safety — the vehicle’s ability to help the driver avoid a crash — as well as secondary safety measures that protect its occupants from harm during a crash.

Price and equipment levels measured against those of vehicles in the same market segment.

How well the vehicle does the job its designers and product planners intended.

Other than the value category – which frankly, with a compact car and a $41,000 price tag, the Volt falls flat on its face – the car knocks the cover off the ball in the other categories.  It’s an advanced design, illustrates engineering excellence, is efficient and safe, and absolutely serves its intended function.  Indeed, the buff book had this to say in its wrap-up of why the Volt won the award:

The more we think about the Volt, the more convinced we are this vehicle represents a real breakthrough. The genius of the Volt’s powertrain is that it is actually capable of operating as a pure EV, a series hybrid, or as a parallel hybrid to deliver the best possible efficiency, depending on your duty cycle. For want of a better technical descriptor, this is world’s first intelligent hybrid. And the investment in the technology that drives this car is also an investment in the long-term future of automaking in America. Moonshot. Game-changer. A car of the future that you can drive today, and every day. So what should we call Chevrolet’s astonishing Volt? How about, simply, Motor Trend’s 2011 Car of the Year.

I often am skeptical of “of the year” awards, and Motor Trend has given the esteemed calipers to some legendary embarrassments of automotive history, such as the 1971 Chevy Vega, 1974 Ford Mustang II, 1983 Renault Alliance, 1980 Chevy Citation, and 1976 Plymouth Volare/Dodge Aspen.  I’m sure that 40 years ago, the Vega seemed to be a remarkable advancement with its aluminum engine, excellent handling, and compact-car packaging, but it didn’t quite turn out that way.  Hey, at least MT didn’t ever name any Oldsmobile diesels as their Car of the Year.

Let’s hope that the Chevrolet Volt turns out to be every bit the car that it seems to be – a true paradigm shift in personal transportation, one that helps the United States to break free of its dependence on imported petroleum.  Because if the car ends up with even a fraction of the problems that some Car of the Year recipients in the past have had, not only will Motor Trend lose credibility, but GM will as well.

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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  1. “1989 Chevy Citation”, you did a little typo, it’s a 1980 Chevy Citation. I can understand your scepticism about the MT COTY. Automobile magazine also gived the “Car of the Year” award to the Volt as well. All it miss is the North American Car of the Year given at the Detroit auto show. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automobile_Magazine_All-Stars

    And by curiosity, here the Canadian COTY winners http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Car_of_the_Year
    The “International COTY” given by Road & Travel http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Car_of_the_Year
    and Car & Driver 10 Best http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Car_and_Driver_Ten_Best
    still giving it to the Accord even if it had turned into a wannabe land-yatch Grand Marquis over the years. I guess some “yakuzas” hired by Honda payed a visit to the offices of Car & Driver with some briefcases or baseball sticks, LOL! 😀

  2. I forgot to mention also 2 previous MT COTY winners who aren’t unlucky as well: 2006 Honda Ridgeline, 1st year sales was ok but the following years was down and there some rumors of the Ridgeline cancellation and the 2008 Toyota Tundra, launched with some quality problems.

  3. Good catch – by 1989, everyone knew what a piece of junk the Citation was. A friend of mine had a white four-door in college, and we called it the Mutation.

    As for the Accord, it’s no longer head-and-shoulders above the other cars in its class, but it’s still a consistently very good car that the competition guns for. There are other midsizers with a feature here or there better than the Accord, but none really put it all together as well.

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