- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2009

A jury of 50 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada has selected the Hyundai Genesis as the 2009 North American Car of the Year and the Ford F-150 as the 2009 North American Truck of the Year.

The awards are unique in the United States because they are given by automotive journalists who represent magazines, television, radio, newspapers and Web sites instead of a single publication. Also, unlike some other awards, the awards are financed entirely by the jurors.

In its Car of the Year award for 2009, Hyundai rises to the cream of the crop - a long way up from its bottom-of-the-barrel reputation.

Hyundai began selling cars in the U.S. in 1986 when it introduced the subcompact Excel here. Its less than $5,000 price tag was a hit and prompted Forbes magazine to name it one of the top 10 products of the year.

Quality problems caused sales to tank, but by 1998 Hyundai’s focus on quality began to draw attention. That was when Hyundai introduced a 10-year powertrain warranty. Sales have improved every year since.

In 2008, Hyundai Santa Fe and Hyundai Elantra were awarded the 2008 Consumer Reports “top pick” and Elantra earned Consumer Reports’ “excellent” rating in predicted reliability. Elantra is Consumer Reports’ top-ranked 2008 vehicle, beating out such high-quality stalwarts as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Toyota Prius.

Considering that in 1998, Hyundai ranked among the worst for initial defects, the turnaround has been extraordinary. Confidence about their capability has prompted Hyundai to challenge the “big dogs” of the luxury segments; thus, the all-new premium focused 2009 Genesis.

At Ford, the story of the Ford F-150 isn’t so complicated. Much to their credit, the Ford team wasn’t content to rest on their laurels. Instead, they took a critical look at an already excellent truck and made it better in just about every way.

In arriving at its decision to select the Genesis and F-150 as Car and Truck of the year, jurors make their selections based on factors that include innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for the dollar. The announcement of the winners at a news conference at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit was the culmination of a selection process that started last summer. To be eligible, vehicles must be “all-new” or “substantially changed” from the previous model.

First, jurors informally create a “long list” of the vehicles they think deserve consideration and a place on the ballot. In September, they are asked to condense that list to approximately 10 cars and 10 trucks and in doing so create the “short list.” Jurors are encouraged to give the benefit of the doubt to vehicles they have not yet driven. This year, the jury considered more than 50 vehicles and settled on 14 cars and 11 trucks for the shortlist.

During the first round of formal balloting, jurors assign points to vehicles from the shortlist. That voting narrows the list down to the top three cars and trucks to be considered during the final round of voting. In December, the top three cars and trucks were announced. The car finalists were the Ford Flex, Hyundai Genesis and the Volkswagen Jetta TDI. The truck finalists were the Dodge Ram, the Ford F-150 and the Mercedes-Benz ML320 BlueTEC.

The final round of voting in early January gave the Genesis 189 points, the Flex 180 and the Jetta TDI 131. The F-150 received 259 points, the Ram 167 points and the Mercedes 74 points.

It’s important to note that all votes are submitted directly to the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, where the top three selections take place and the final winners are determined. The winner and all of the scores are known only by a select staff at Deloitte & Touche until the winner is announced at the Detroit Auto Show. Michelle Collins, vice chairman automotive at Deloitte & Touche, was responsible for counting the ballots and announcing the winners.

This was the first time a Korean automaker has won, the fifth time Ford has won the North American Truck of the Year and the third win for the F-150 in particular. Last year, the North American Car and Truck of the Year were the Chevrolet Malibu the Mazda CX-9.

Domestic automakers have won North American Car of the Year eight times. The Japanese have won three times, and the Europeans have won four times. Domestics have won North American Truck of the Year nine times, the Japanese four times and the Europeans twice.

For details about the award, go to www.northamericancaroftheyear.org.

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2009


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