Which Award is the Best Reward?

Which Award is the Best Reward?

I hate to say it, but car awards have become almost as inane as music, movie and television awards. Like the various entertainment awards, automotive awards are everywhere, and most consumers probably can't tell one from the other. The sources of said awards range from Internet gaming sites ("Which vehicle makes it the easiest to hook up an Xbox?") to honest-to-goodness automotive authorities — yes, there are one or two others besides Edmunds.com.

A few months ago I commented on the challenges of assigning our own Editors' Most Wanted awards, so it seems only fair to give some of the other automotive awards out there equal time. Every major publication has one (or more), and they all release their results at about the same time of year — November. Let's do a quick rundown of what the competition considers "award-winning" for the 2004 model year. To avoid the appearance of favoritism, we'll go in alphabetical order.

Automobile and "Automobile of the Year" — This one is sort of like Motor Trend's "Car of the Year" award, but while Motor Trend breaks its "of the year" awards up between "Car," "Truck" and "SUV," Automobile magazine has the one and only "Automobile of the Year" that gives a single vehicle top honors. The magazine also identifies the "Design of the Year" (Toyota Prius) and "Man of the Year" (Martin Leach). Finally, the magazine's "All Stars" awards come out in the early months of a given year and identify top vehicles in a variety of categories (there were 14 for 2003). The All-Star awards are voted on by both the Automobile editors and the magazine's readers, with the results from both sources being reported (this makes them similar to both our Editors' Most Wanted awards and our Consumers' Most Wanted awards).

AutoWeek and "America's Best" — Once a year AutoWeek solicits its readers' opinion by allowing them to vote on the best cars and trucks sold in America. There are 13 categories in all, and they range from "Best Economy Car" to "Best Exotic Sports Car." Because these awards are completely based on reader opinion, they are exactly like the Edmunds.com Consumers' Most Wanted awards, except we have 29 categories instead of 13, and all of our voting occurs on-line (AutoWeek recently switched to on-line voting as well). The increased number of Edmunds.com Consumers' Most Wanted categories comes from using both a price and vehicle type breakdown (i.e. Best Convertible under $25,000, Best Convertible under $35,000, etc.). AutoWeek's awards are strictly by vehicle type (i.e. Best Luxury Car, Best Ultra-Luxury Car, etc.), with no stated price breaks.

Car&Driver and "10Best" — The Car&Driver boys pride themselves on appealing to the informed automotive enthusiast, and glancing at their last few "10Best" lists clearly reflects this thinking. Of the 10 cars they picked for 2004, there's not a truck, SUV or minivan among them. If you've dubbed yourself a "driver" and you plan to only buy a "car," this list will suit you well (and it's not just full of performance cars; the Prius and Accord are among the "10Best" for 2004). For those interested, Car&Driver also throws in random categories like the "10Best Mechanics' Tales," Garage Art and (in years past) Traffic Ticket Tales. While the magazine's readers can weigh in on the other "10Best" lists, they have no voice in picking which cars make the "10Best Cars" cut.

Motor Trend and "…of the Year" — The magazine that started it all, Motor Trend's first "Car of the Year" was announced in 1949 (the first year of the magazine) and has been with us ever since. It's had many iterations and expansions over the years, including the now-defunct "Import Car of the Year" and the current "Truck of the Year" and "SUV of the Year" awards that complement the "Car of the Year" category. Of all the automobile awards, this one is still the most widely recognized by the public at large. It is also the most scrutinized and questioned by industry insiders because of its history of, well…let's just say some people have questioned the motives behind the winners. This year the Toyota Prius won "Car of the Year," the Volkswagen Touareg won "SUV of the Year" and the Ford F-150 won "Truck of the Year."

North American Car and Truck of the Year — Rather than simply relying on the opinions of a single publication, the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury is made up of 49 automotive journalists from, you guessed it, North America (this means Canada is in on the act). To be eligible, a car or truck must be "all new" or "substantially changed" from the previous year, and it must display outstanding "innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for the dollar." In 2003 the winners were the Mini Cooper for car (the Edmunds.com Most Significant Vehicle for 2002) and the Volvo XC90. The 2004 winners are the Toyota Prius and Ford F-150.

Road & Track and "Readers' Choice Best Car" — This is the first year for Road & Track's "Readers' Choice Award — Best Car" though in years past the magazine has awarded several titles, including the "10 Best Cars in the World." Perhaps Road & Track's "10 Best" got axed because of its near identical name to Car&Driver's "10Best" award; both companies are owned by the same publishing house. For 2004 the magazine's readers (as the name implies) will vote on the "best car" from a list of candidates picked by the magazine's staff. The winner will be announced in the February issue.

Obviously there's no shortage of automobile awards, but from my completely biased point of view Edmunds.com offers the most insightful system of identifying the best cars and trucks in any given year.

First, we use a comprehensive system that ensures a place for all 250-plus models sold in the U.S. Our categories are broken down by vehicle type and price, so buyers at all price points can easily identify our favorite models. While 29 categories may sound like a lot at first glance, it's the only way to cover the vast U.S. automobile market. We also identify both a "winner" and "honorable mention" because we know that, in almost every category, there is more than one vehicle worthy of serious consideration.

Second, these awards are truly based on what the Edmunds.com editors want. There's no attempt to "balance" the winner list to give every manufacturer a "fair share" of recognition. Crazy as it may sound, we believe an automaker must earn its fair share of recognition by building class-leading product. If Brand X doesn't build a single model we like, and Brand Y builds five models we like, those results are reflected in the winner — and honorable mention — lists. My editorial team is often criticized for being "biased" toward certain manufacturers. My response remains consistent: "Edmunds.com editors are undeniably biased…toward great product."

Finally, our awards are announced in Mid-October every year. This gives you, the consumer, the maximum notice as to what's hot for the coming model year. It's an understood fact of publishing that advertising rates drop in the winter, and it's further understood that magazines utilize their various "award" issues to bolster advertising rates in an otherwise slow season. As I stated before, the Edmunds.com Editors' Most Wanted awards are not driven by business concerns, they are driven by a consumer need to have the "best" vehicles in every category easily identified. And, by having both an "Editors'" and a "Consumers'" Most Wanted award system, we combine our opinion with our readers' opinion to further call out the best cars and trucks sold in the U.S. We give consumers an extra six months to buy and experience the newest models before holding our on-line voting, so you can expect to see the 2004 results around mid-April.

Of course, I shouldn't suggest that the other guys' awards are either too narrowly focused to serve the majority of consumers, or too compromised by business concerns to accurately reflect the marketplace (or both), but I do believe we have the most effective system for helping the most consumers easily identify the best cars.

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