LOS ANGELES -- Ford, which has emphasized improving the fuel efficiency of its lineup, won a top "green car" award for its Fusion midsize sedan, which is offered in gas-powered, hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions.
This wide range of powertrains was the reason it was dubbed Green Car of the Year at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Thursday. The award by Green Car Journal recognizes leadership in reducing tailpipe emissions.
"It won by virtue of the fact that it offers an array of choices," Ron Cogan, editor of Green Car Journal, said of the Fusion after announcing the award. "This is huge."
Previous winners have included General Motors Co's plug-in Chevrolet Volt and Honda's natural gas-powered Civic.
While the auto industry as a whole has shifted focus to improving fuel economy, hybrids like the popular Toyota Prius and the Volt will account for less than 3 percent of the U.S. new auto market by the end of 2012, said Lonnie Miller, analyst with Polk Automotive.
Sales of electric cars like Nissan's Leaf and the Volt have lagged expectations, despite high gasoline prices, in part because the cost of the batteries that power them is very high and normal internal combustion engines are getting much better mileage per gallon than in the past.
The Fusion's gasoline-powered base model gets 34 miles per gallon on the highway, while the hybrid version gets 47 mpg. The plug-in Fusion Energi includes 20 miles of all-electric range, with a backup gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain.
Ford has revitalized sales in recent years in part due to a renewed focus on fuel economy and smaller, more efficient cars.
The average fuel economy of Ford's cars and trucks for model year 2011 was 21.3 mpg, up from 18 mpg in 2006, U.S. government data shows. The industry average for 2011 was 22.8 mpg.
"This is a great testament to the transformation of our brand," Dave Mondragon, general marketing manager of Ford, said as he accepted the award.
Underscoring the auto industry's recent shift toward fuel economy, all five finalists for the 2013 award are available to the mass market. They include the ultra-efficient compact Dodge Dart Aero and crossover SUV Mazda CX-5 SkyACTIV, Toyota Motor Corp's subcompact hybrid, the Prius c, and the Ford C-Max, a crossover that comes in hybrid and plug-in versions.
Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports, said that the past couple of years have been characterized by incremental improvements rather than big breakthroughs when it comes fuel economy of new vehicles.
"There's not a whole lot of 'hit 'em right out of the park' vehicles here," he said. "There's no new Tesla being introduced. You look at the Green Cars of the Year. There is nothing really earth-shattering."
The winner was selected by a panel of environmental leaders, including Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, Ocean Futures Society President Jean-Michel Cousteau, Global Green USA President Matt Petersen, television personality and car enthusiast Jay Leno and staff of the Green Car Journal.
Ford shares were up 1.9 percent at $11.46 on Thursday afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange.