I've been involved in the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) Car of the Year evaluation process from the very beginning.
And while I haven't always - often haven't, in fact - agreed with all of the selections, I still believed it was the most thorough, most objective process of any such program anywhere in the world.
But today, I am really shaking my head.
The finalists for the Canadian Car of the Year were announced this morning at the Montreal Auto Show.
Hyundai Elantra GT
Worthy cars all.
This is the obvious overall Car of the Year, and has already been chosen (and in some cases announced) as such by several other competitions, some of which have some significance (the North American Car of the Year; others to come), others which don't (I won't dignify them with a mention).
But even the latter have got it right.
We have got it horribly wrong.
I'm not completely alone here; even some of GM's competitors expressed surprise that the ATS didn't make the Top Three.
The way it works in the AJAC competition is that to be eligible for the Overall title, a car has to win its category at the AJAC Test Fest, which took place last October. The ATS did (beating among others the BMW 3 Series, the perennial benchmark in the global sport sedan segment). Of course, Accord, Elantra GT and Boxster won their respective categories too.
Then the voting AJAC members cast another ballot ranking the category winners. It is weighted thus: Merit (40%); Value (20%); Environment (10%), Safety (10%); Market Significance (10%); Emotional Appeal (10%).
Given that all the cars have 'merit' - they wouldn't have got this far if they didn't - it's hard to see how there could have been much of a swing there.
Likewise value. Now, the Accord and Hyundai obviously cost less than the Cadillac, but the Boxster costs more - a lot more. And has two seats versus four or five, etc.
Environment? As I have said many times before, the modern automobile simply isn't an issue when it comes to the environment. But even so, there can't be that much difference among these cars on this count either.
Likewise safety. All cars must pass the same crash tests, and the Cadillac offers some unique and significant safety advances the other don't, such as the ''crash warning seat" (which as a member of the AJAC Best New Technology panel, I figured would be the overall winner but my colleagues on this panel didn't even vote for it to make the Top Ten cut...).
So, how could there have been much of a swing on safety?
The remaining two categories are where I figured the Caddy would have a strong showing.
Accord has 'market significance' because it sells in big numbers, in a big segment.
But a 'Car of the Year' should not be chosen based solely on sales. That'd be like the Oscar going to Texas Chain Saw Massacre XVII simply because it sold the most tickets.
A Car of the Year should somehow 'move the marketing goalposts', make some sort of a statement. And for a domestic manufacturer to take on the best of the foreign competition in the compact sports sedan segment and do so well (cf beating BMW 3 Series in the AJAC event), surely that is an amazing feat.
The Boxster was already among the top sports cars in its class, and sells in pretty small numbers overall. So how could it have scored that well here?
The Elantra? A hatchback version of the car that won last year's overall title?
Hardly significant at all.
True, the Boxster would score highly in Emotional Appeal. But so should have the Cadillac.
Accord and Elantra? Emotional Appeal?
So it is a complete mystery.
And so I guess it shall remain because the ballots and vote tallies are kept secret.
Maybe that's how it should be, to save some of the individual electors from even greater embarrassment.
BTW, the finalists for Utility Vehicle of the Year are Ford Escape and Hyundai Santa Fe. No arguments from me there.