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Chevrolet Volt wins Green Car of the Year award

The Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric car, the centrepiece of a revitalized General Motors Co, was named 2011 Green Car of the Year Thursday.

The highly anticipated Volt received the industry's top environmental honour the same day GM shares began trading -- the biggest U.S. IPO ever.

The Volt edged out the Nissan Leaf and three other gas-sipping cars for the prize, which is awarded by Green Car Journal.

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"With the Volt we are making a bold pronouncement," said Joel Ewanick, GM's marketing chief, who accepted the award for the company. "We need to be more aware of CO2 and fuel efficiency and it's a great start, but we're many, many years away from making that leap to where we need to be."

Winning Green Car of the Year is yet another feather in the cap of the recovering 102-year-old auto maker, which went from near-death in 2008 to a 2009 government bailout and bankruptcy to 2010 unlikely Wall Street flotation favourite.

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General Motors' Volt, which its makers have touted as the symbol of a leaner and greener U.S. auto industry, is designed to run on electric power for about 40 miles (64 km), at which point it relies on a gasoline engine to charge the battery.

The Nissan Motor Co Ltd Leaf is a plug-in that runs fully on electric power. The Leaf will, on full charge, run for 100 miles (160 km) or so, depending on road and weather conditions.

Other finalists for the award included Ford Motor Co's new Fiesta, which can achieve 40 miles per gallon in highway driving. It was the only finalist not to use electric drive.

Two hybrids, the Hyundai Motor Co Sonata Hybrid and Ford's Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, were also in the running.

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In limited numbers, both the Volt and the Leaf will be available in some areas of the United States later this year.

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CONTROVERSY

The Volt took home the prize despite recent criticism that details of its design make it more like a traditional hybrid than a pure electric car.

GM has taken heat in recent weeks for waiting until last month to disclose the details of how the Volt's gasoline engine interacts with its two electric motors, although the debate has little practical significance for most consumers.

The vehicle will be produced initially in limited numbers and a waiting list of green car enthusiasts almost guarantees the Volt will be sold out.

The Volt's range in electric mode varies from 25 miles to 50 miles depending on road and weather conditions.

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When the Volt's 400-pound battery is depleted, the 1.4 litre gasoline engine provides power to help drive the wheels at highway speeds, GM said. But the engine cannot propel the car without engaging the electric motors.

The Volt has been priced at $41,000 in the U.S., before federal and state tax incentives.

The panel for selecting the Green Car of the Year includes Sierra Club Chairman Carl Pope, Natural Resources Defence Council President Frances Beinecke, "Tonight Show" host and car enthusiast Jay Leno and car designer Carroll Shelby, among others.

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Bernie Woodall contributed to this report.

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