By Marc Lachapelle
Winning the coveted North American Car of the Year title is a breakthrough achievement for Hyundai and a historical first for Korean cars. The Ford F-150, on the other hand, is an old pro at this. Previous full redesigns of the long-running best-seller had effectively won Truck of the Year trophies twice before, in 1996 and 2004. The winners were announced at the start of the first media day of this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, on January 11.
The Hyundai Genesis is the carmaker’s first foray in luxury cars and it prevailed with a final score of 189 points over the Canadian-built Ford Flex, a close second with 180 points. Third was the Volkswagen Jetta TDI with 131 points.
Accepting the award in Detroit, Doctor Hyun-Soon Lee, Vice-Chairman of R&D at Hyundai Motor Company stated that the Genesis was true to its name as “a new beginning for our company. It is our first global car, he continued, our first rear-wheel drive model and our first V8 engine.” In his eyes, the Genesis demonstrates the engineering excellence Hyundai as long been aiming for: ”It is a game-changing vehicle for us but it’s only the first: we will soon have the second and third stage, cars that we hope will bring us back on this stage many more times.”
In trucks, the Ford F-150 collected 259 points, giving it a solid margin over the Dodge Ram with 167 points, itself comfortably ahead of the Mercedes-Benz ML 320 Bluetec with 74 points. On the winners’ podium, Ford President of the Americas Mark Fields first let out a heartfelt “Wow!” He then thanked the team that redesigned the truck that has been the leader in the full-size pickup segment for 32 years in the U.S. and 43 years in Canada, adding that Ford “always puts great effort in learning about the actual use of its trucks, so this award also belongs to its users.”
The ML 320 and Jetta TDI were also the first diesel-powered entries to make it to the final round in the history of the North American awards, in their sixteenth edition this year. The program was effectively created in 1994 and remains self-administered and self-funded by an independent group of journalists to this day. It relies on the collective experience of fifty of the top writers and reviewers representing virtually all the major automotive media on this continent. Of this number, seven journalists are from Canada, including this writer.
Jury members started their work in August of last year by narrowing down preliminary lists of 39 cars and 24 trucks or utility vehicles that were potential contenders for the 2000 model year. A first secret vote netted a list of fourteen cars that included the following models, in addition to the above-named finalists, the Audi A4, BMW 1 Series, Cadillac CTS-V, Dodge Challenger, Honda Fit, Jaguar XF, Lincoln MKS, Mazda6, Nissan GT-R, Pontiac G8 and Toyota Venza.
On the truck side, the eight other chosen contenders were the BMW X6, Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, Infiniti FX35/50, Kia Borrego, Nissan Murano, Subaru Forester and Volkswagen Tiguan. To be eligible, a vehicle must be all-new or extensively redesigned for the new model year. It must also be available for sale at the time of announcement or shortly after and it needs to have projected annual sales of 5000 units in North America for cars and 2000 for trucks.
After a second round vote, three finalists were announced in Detroit on December 18 and jury members then proceeded to cast a final vote for the grand winners. All secret ballots are sent to the Detroit office of international accounting firm KPMG and the results kept secret until the envelopes were ripped open in Detroit on January 11.
Interestingly, both the Genesis and F-150 would have already won their respective awards in the first round of voting. The Korean luxury upstart would have done so quite convincingly, with a tally of 223 points to the Volkswagen Jetta TDI’s 156 points and the 152 points allotted to the Ford Flex.
The Ford F-150 had a closer battle on its mechanical hands, having collected 367 points in the first round while the Dodge Ram received 318 points. The Mercedes-Benz ML 320 Bluetec followed at some distance, with a total of 140 points.
On an entirely personal note, long-time North American Car or the Year steering committee member and organizer Chris Jensen shares this writer’s disbelief at the fact that the spacious and frugal new Honda Fit, with 106 points, did not even make the final round. The brilliant little Honda, a car for the times if there is one, would have made things extremely interesting in the final vote against the no less impressive Genesis, since jurors always give great attention to ultimate value in these awards.
PREVIOUS NACOTY / NATOTY WINNERS
2008 – NACOTY: Chevrolet Malibu
2008 – NATOTY: Mazda CX-9
2007 – NACOTY: Saturn Aura
2007 – NATOTY: Chevrolet Silverado
2006 – NACOTY: Honda Civic
2006 – NATOTY: Honda Ridgeline
2005 – NACOTY: Chrysler 300/300C
2005 – NATOTY: Ford Escape Hybrid
2004 – NACOTY: Toyota Prius
2004 – NATOTY: Ford F-150
2003 – NACOTY: Mini Cooper
2003 – NATOTY: Volvo XC90
2002 – NACOTY: Nissan Altima
2002 – NATOTY: Chevrolet TrailBlazer
2001 – NACOTY: Chrysler PT Cruiser
2001 – NATOTY: Acura MDX
2000 – NACOTY: Ford Focus
2000 – NATOTY: Nissan Xterra
1999 – NACOTY: Volkswagen New Beetle
1999 – NATOTY: Jeep Grand Cherokee
1998 – NACOTY: Chevrolet Corvette
1998 – NATOTY: Mercedes-Benz ML 320
1997 – NACOTY: Mercedes-Benz SLK
1997 – NATOTY: Ford Expedition
1996 – NACOTY: Chrysler minivans
1996 – NATOTY: Ford F-150
1995 – NACOTY: Chrysler Cirrus
1995 – NATOTY: Chevrolet Blazer
1994 – NACOTY: Mercedes-Benz C-Class
1994 – NATOTY: Dodge Ram