The Ford Fusion (a completely different, much larger car than the model of the same name sold outside the US), Honda Civic (sedan and coupe) and Pontiac Solstice are the finalists for the 2006 North American Car of the Year award while the Ford Explorer, Honda Ridgeline and Nissan Xterra will jostle for truck of the year.

All are made in North America.

The awards are said to be unique because instead of being given by a single publication, radio or television station they are given by 49 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada. Much like the European car of the year, then, which polls motoring critics continent-wide.

US pundits say the award has some prestige because the mix of jurors irons out any individual publication's particular bias.

The awards recognize the expected factors - including innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for money - and eligible vehicles are "all new" or "substantially changed" from the previous model.

Jurors whittled the field down to 14 cars and 14 trucks on which they voted.

Winners will be announced on 8 January at the Detroit motor show.

Last year's top car was the Chrysler 300/300C and the truck pick was the Ford Escape Hybrid.

In the last 12 years, domestic automakers have won the North American Car of the Year six times. Japanese automakers have won twice and European automakers have won four times.

This year's European car of the year was the redesigned Renault Clio.