GENEVA Just as the assembly lines making them prepared for a five-week shutdown due to slack demand, General Motors Co's (GM.N) Chevrolet Volt and Ampera plug-in electric hybrid cars were named "European Car of the Year" at the Geneva Auto Show.
"It validates the product story here," said GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky on getting the award.
He pointed out that Opel won the European Car of the Year award in 2009 with the Opel Insignia sedan.
"It shows commitment to product. This did not just get invented post-bankruptcy. This is pre-bankruptcy and it shows this company knows how to put a good car on the road."
Girsky, who along with Opel Chief Executive Karl Stracke wore a Car of the Year pin on the lapel of his suit, was referring to the 2009 bankruptcy sponsored by the U.S. government.
Stracke said it was the fourth time that Opel had won Europe's top annual car award.
GM is working to fix Opel, which lost $747 million in 2011. Girsky did not say on Tuesday how much money GM expects to lose in Europe this year.
Last week, GM announced that it would halt Volt production from March 19 to April 23 and lay off 1,300 workers at the Detroit plant that makes the twin sedans Volt and Ampera.
GM missed its 2011 U.S. sales target for the Volt and at the end of February had an inventory of 3,600 vehicles, a number that would be higher if it included cars in transit.
Girsky said the Ampera and Volt may sell better in Europe than in the United States.
"There's a case to be made that it will do better in Europe than in the U.S. because fuel costs are so much higher and I think the governments are very committed to infrastructure here. We'll see."
The Volt was named North American car of the year in 2011, and both U.S. and global "Green Car of the Year" that year too.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall, Additional Reporting by Christiaan Hetzner; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)