It isn't quite like being an Oscar nominee, but the North American Car and Truck of the Year organization has announced the finalists for its car and truck of the year awards. The eventual winners will be voted from those lists and their identity will be revealed at the Detroit auto show in January.
Endorsements by third parties like the journalists on the NACTOY panel are increasingly important in the car business, and the awards, now in their 20th year, have been growing in visibility. (Full disclosure: I am one of the 50 jurors). So it is not too soon to start handicapping the contest to see who the early favorites are.
Jurors are asked to drive and evaluate cars for factors like innovation, handling, performance, safety, and value for dollar. And like the members of the motion picture Academy, they are subject to their own predilections and interests. Critics have decried a hometown tilt by jurors, many of whom are based in Detroit. Executives at Toyota are still angry that the revolutionary hybrid Prius was passed over in 2001 for the cute but inconsequential Plymouth PT Cruiser for Car of the Year. (The snub was partly corrected when the next-generation Prius won the award in 2004).
In recent years, Car of the Year voting has shifted to a more international outlook (Volkswagen and Range Rover were winners in 2012), but it still favors the domestics. Detroit has won 10 awards, Asian automakers but four. Toyota's Camry, perennially the best-selling car in the U.S., has never won and has been a finalist only once.
This year, the short list is balanced -- five American cars, five Japanese, one European -- but the betting here is that hometown pride will once again be the deciding factor in who wins North American Car of the Year.
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