Guessing which vehicles will take home the annual North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year awards is easier some years than others, but most industry experts had 2020’s crop of winners chosen long before this week’s announcement.
The actual name of the award is the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY) despite now having three categories covering passenger cars, a sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.
Just 50 automotive journalists make up the NACTOY jury, from print, online, radio and broadcast media in both the United States and Canada, with the finalists presented in the fall and eventual winners awarded each year at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, although this year’s presentation was changed to a separate event at Detroit’s TCF Center (formerly known as Cobo Hall/Cobo Center) due to the 2020 NAIAS moving its dates forward to June 7-20 this year. The NACTOY awards were first presented in 1994, with the Utility Vehicle category added in 2017.
Of note, nomination requirements include completely new vehicles, total redesigns, or significant refreshes. In other words, the nominated vehicle needs to be something most consumers would consider new to the market or substantially different from a model’s predecessor. Also important, the finalists earned their top-three placement by judging their segment leadership, innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for money.
The selection process started in June last year, with the vehicle eligibility determined after three rounds of voting. NACTOY used the independent accounting firm Deloitte LLP to tally the votes and kept them secret until the envelopes were unsealed on stage by the organization’s President, Lauren Fix, Vice President, Chris Paukert, and Secretary-Treasurer, Kirk Bell.
The finalists in the “Car” category included the Chevrolet Corvette, Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Supra, with the final winner being the new seventh-generation mid-engine Corvette, a total game changer for the model and sports car category. Interestingly, it’s been six years since a sports car won the passenger car category, so kudos to Chevy for creating something so spectacular it couldn’t be ignored, while Toyota and Hyundai should also be commended for their excellent entries.
“A mid-engine Corvette was a huge risk for Chevy’s muscle-car icon. They nailed it. Stunning styling, interior, and performance for one-third of the cost of comparable European exotics,” said Henry Payne, auto critic for The Detroit News.
The “Utility Vehicle” finalists included the Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride and Lincoln Aviator, with most industry insiders believing one of the two South Korean entries (which are basically the same vehicle under the skin, a la Chevrolet Traverse/GMC Acadia) would take home the prize, and lo and behold the Kia Telluride earned top marks.
“The Telluride’s interior layout and design would meet luxury SUV standards, while its refined drivetrain, confident driving dynamics and advanced technology maintain the premium experience,” said Karl Brauer, Executive Publisher at Cox Automotive. “Traditional SUV brands take note: there’s a new star player on the field.”
Lastly, “Truck” of the year finalists included the new to us Ford Ranger, the entirely new Jeep Gladiator, and the Ram HD (Heavy Duty) 2500 and 3500, with the sensational new Gladiator getting the highest marks. Incidentally, you’d need to look all the way back to 1999 to find a Jeep that won its category, that model being the Grand Cherokee.
“What’s not to like about a pickup truck with not only a soft-top removable roof but even removable doors? If you want massive cargo-hauling capability or the ability to tow 10,000 pounds, buy something else,” said longtime automotive journalist John Voelcker. “The eagerly awaited Gladiator is a one-of-a-kind truck, every bit the Jeep its Wrangler sibling is … but with a pickup bed. How could you possibly get more American than that?”
Of note, NACTOY is an independent, non-profit organization, with elected officers and funding by dues-paying journalist members.
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