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The awards for 2018 North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year kicked off press days at the Detroit Auto Show on Monday, and the Honda Accord won bragging rights for Car of the Year in a surprise squeaker over the Kia Stinger Sportback.

This was supposed to be the year of a showdown between the all-new Accord and the Toyota Camry - which have dominated the midsize segment for two decades - but  the Camry faded in the end. In a close finish, the Stinger - the Korean brand's athletic, performance sedan - nearly pipped the Accord, losing by just 31 points, 277-246. The Camry was a distant third with 77 points.

Honda was not so dominant in a wide-open race for SUV of the Year, its Odyssey minivan coming in second to the Volvo XC60. The Alfa Romeo Stelvio, the Italian luxury brand's first entry in the SUV market, was third.

"The Accord's win shows we're still in a strong position to sell sedans in a SUV-dominated market," said Henio Arcangeli, chief of American Honda. Indicative of the tectonic shift in the US market to SUVs, Honda's perennially best-selling Accord and Civic sedans were outsold this year by the brand's CR-V ute.

"We offer a well-balanced lineup," said Arcangeli next to the Cobo Hall stage where the award was presented. "Both our SUVs and sedans can do well in this marketplace."

For the first time in the NACTOY award’s history, no Detroit cars were eligible for sedan of the year. But Detroit brands dominated Truck of the Year nominees with the Lincoln Navigator SUV, Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 pickup and Ford Expedition SUV.

In a year in which there was a dearth of new pickups introduced - the Colorado ZR2 is a trim level of the Chevy pickup first sold in 2014 - the Navigator won for its capability and luxury. Based on the Ford F-150's ladder-style truck frame, the Navigator offers truck-like towing capability with best-in-class interior comfort.

"Navigator is a very versatile that meets cusomers' needs for space and capability," said Lincoln president Kumar Galhotra. "Every single Navigator we build is flying off the lots." The Navigator is key to a Lincoln brand redefining itself as "quiet luxury."

The NACTOY awards are among the auto industry’s most prestigious. They are judged by an independent panel of 50-plus journalists hailing from across the US and Canada.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

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