There are so many Car/Truck/Utility/Technology of the Year awards, it's not surprising that people get confused.
Various magazines and web sites have their own awards programs, each of which may have their specific - well, 'prejudices' may be too strong a word; 'emphasis', perhaps.
A sports car magazine will lean towards vehicles with outstanding acceleration and handling; a high-tech web site to what they perceive as advanced technology; a 'green' association to the electric hot rod du jour.
Recently, the North American Car / Truck of the Year jury, of which yours truly is one of five Canadian members, voted for the Chevrolet Corvette as Car of the Year, and the Chevrolet Silverado as Truck of the Year, a rare if not unprecedented Twin Win for a single brand.
Another failure of democracy.
I had my messages pre-typed and ready to send off into the twittersphere as the envelopes were being opened at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last Monday, announcing that the Cadillac CTS would be Car of the Year (it finished a distant third amongst the three finalists, with Mazda3 coming second) and Jeep Cherokee as Truck of the Year (it was second, with Acura MDX a distant third).
Am I somehow anti-Chevrolet?
Not at all. The obvious Car of the Year - obvious to me; apparently not to others - was a Chevrolet. More on that in a moment.
Given the three finalists, I just thought that Corvette, as brilliant a car as it is, is a relatively expensive, relatively low-volume car. OK, so is the Cadillac, but not to the same extent.
Maybe my colleagues felt that giving Cadillac the prize two years in a row (ATS won last year) was not on for some reason.
Likewise, the Silverado is a nice-enough truck, not that I know that much about pick-up trucks.
It just seemed to me that the new Cherokee really raised the bar in its class, and that's what any “of the Year'' vehicle should do.
In Canada, Graeme Fletcher in conjunction with Brad Diamond chooses the Car of the Year for TSN's Motoring TV show. I have been on that show for all but the first of our 27-year run, but never get a vote on this. At least partially as a result, Graeme almost always gets it wrong.
The 2014 show doesn't air until this coming weekend, so I shouldn't tell you what his choice is.
His track record doesn't give me confidence.
The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) conducts what is surely the most thorough, broadest-based evaluation process in the world. I have played a not insignificant role in the development thereof over the decades, and am fully committed to it.
But it is no more accurate - 'accuracy' here being defined as ”agreeing with me'' (ahem) - than the others.
Either there's something wrong with the process, or there's something wrong with my colleagues.
Any other possibility is simply beyond the pale...
In the AJAC system, vehicles are driven back-to-back and evaluated against others that are similar in design intent and price - e.g., 'Family Car over $30,000'. Voters chose winners in each category, and also choose which of those they believe should be overall Car or Utility Vehicle of the Year.
The Category winners are here on the AJAC web site as I type; the three finalists in each division will be revealed later this week, I believe.
But they/we collectively have already got it wrong.
Because the true Overall Car of the Year for 2104 didn't even win its category at the AJAC Test Fest last October.
Drum roll please...
See? I don't hate Chevrolet.
Here's a car that in one generational change went from essentially being a taxi - a big chunk of Impala sales in recent years have been to fleets, rather than in the harsher crucible of the retail market - to being the best mid-size sedan Consumer Reports magazine has ever tested.
And CR has hardly been favourable to domestic sedans over the years. If it wasn't a Toyota or a Honda, they didn't want to know.
Impala is by any definition a handsome piece.
Interesting though: At Detroit last week, I mentioned my choice (of Impala) to Ed Welburn, vice-president of global design for General Motors. You could forgive him for being not totally impartial, but you would also think that any such impartiality would be in the direction of its styling over anything else.
But Welburn told me, “I have one as my personal car now, and it drives even better than it looks.''
Jack Keebler is a former journalist colleague who went over the wall before the bankruptcy to become sort of GM's 'internal' auto journalist. He gives GM cars tough reviews while there is still time to correct flaws which he knows the rest of us would eventually complain about. He never did and still doesn't pull any punches. He told me in Detroit that he also has an Impala as his personal car, and really likes it.
These are people who can drive any GM car they like.
They choose a mid-size, popularly-priced sedan, which competes in the largest passenger car market segment in the USA, one which has been dominated by Japanese-branded cars for over two decades.
Did I mention Impala is assembled in Oshawa?
So, how did we collectively screw things up? On both sides of the border?
I have spoken with a few of my colleagues on the 55-strong North American jury. They too had assigned a big chunk of support to Impala, and were surprised it didn't make the Top Three.
There can be no understanding.
On a related note, AJAC's Best New Technology Awards were announced at the Montreal Auto Show last week. Yes, I am on that jury too.
There are two categories within this program, one specifically for safety-related technologies, one for innovation.
The Safety award went to the Q50's collision prediction/prevention system, which can apparently 'see' a potential collision two cars ahead ofitself.
Several other car makers have something similar, but it's the 'two cars ahead' thing that stands out here.
Contrary to the impression that may be gleaned from the TV ads, it does not only spot oranges falling off a truck.
The Innovation award went to the Q50's available 'steer by wire' system, which eliminates a mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the front wheels. Substituting electronic signals and activators, this allows the car to change steering ratio and effort level, depending on driving conditions and/or driver preference, and even helps keep the car running straight and true on a cambered road.
For belt-and-suspenders types, there IS a potential mechanical connection - a clutch re-engages said connection in case the electronics should fail.
Perish the thought.
Despite a ten-year research project and input from four-time World Driving Champion Sebastian Vettel, I'm not convinced they really have the feel properly worked out yet.
But overall, this is an 'enabling' technology which really advances the science of suspension development.
And again, real advances are what 'of the Year'' awards should be all about.
This time I actually voted for the winners, as did my colleagues.
Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.