Ford Motor Co. is in the rare position where it could land both the North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year. The maker’s new Fusion sedan and C-Max “people mover” were among the six finalists named today by the 49-member NACTOY jury.
Also on the list are the Cadillac ATS luxury sedan and Honda Accord sedan in the car category, and the Ram 1500 and Mazda CX-5 crossover in the Truck/Utility category. If Ford were to score in both categories, it would be only the third time in the 20 years of the widely-followed award that a single maker won both Car and Truck honors.
But Ford won’t have a cakewalk, stressed Lindsay Brooke, a member of the NACTOY organizing committee. “These candidates,” he declared during a Detroit Automotive Press Association luncheon called to announce the finalists, “they’re all knock-outs. Many jurors have said it’s the toughest year.”
The NACTOY program is unique among the many automotive awards handed out each year in that the awards are decided by a diverse jury of 49 members of the automotive media (down from the normal 50) representing a wide range of print, broadcast and digital outlets in the U.S. and Canada. The concept is to minimize the bias that might otherwise creep into balloting for an award presented by a single media outlet.
The process begins with a “long ballot” that this year comprised nearly 50 cars, trucks and crossover. That was narrowed down in a series of steps to the current list of six finalists. The winning two vehicles will be announced during the opening ceremonies at the North American International Auto Show, in Detroit, on January 14, 2013.
Over the years, Ford has won more trophies than any other manufacturer, eight in all, with the various General Motors brands coming in close behind, at seven. All told, 14 different manufacturers have won at least one award during the first 19 years of NACTOY balloting.
Ford previously captured both the Car and Truck awards, though Honda was first to achieve that sweep, in 2006, with the compact Civic and the Ridgeline pickup.
“It’s an honor,” said Honda spokesman Ed Miller, of the maker’s latest choice as Car-of-the-Year finalist with the 2013 Accord.
That was echoed by Ford spokesman Said Deep, who said the maker’s inclusion validated its goal of “trying to put the best cars and trucks on the road.”
Like other officials speaking for the finalists, Deep said Ford would be pleased simply to have been among the chosen six – but that the ultimate goal is clearly winning the overall victory. “To have that win, that’s huge – and there’s probably no bigger way to start the New Year.”
There had been general expectation that the new crop of midsize sedans – which also included semi-finalist Nissan Altima – would dominate this year’s balloting. But Cadillac had also been a favorite with the well-reviewed new ATS. Nonetheless, with “value” a critical factor NACTOY jurors are instructed to consider, it has long been difficult to get on the list of finalists with a luxury model.
“It’s gratifying for us,” to land a sport among the three Car finalists, said spokesman David Caldwell, “and it supports the trajectory we’ve set out for the brand.”
For 2013, the NACTOY jurors faced a modest change reflecting a critical trend in the U.S. automotive market. The Truck award is now designed to include both traditional trucks and the increasingly popular slate of crossover-utility vehicles. In fact, only one model was a classic “truck-truck,” the Ram 1500.
“The truck market is fiercely competitive, making it an honor for the 2013 Ram 1500 to be named a finalist for the 2013 North American Truck/Utility of the Year,” said Fred Diaz, President and CEO – Ram Truck Brand. “When you combine Ram’s innovative content, capability, value and recognition by the NACTOY jurors, you’ve got a powerful force in the marketplace.”
Of the six finalists, perhaps the long-shot was the Mazda CX-5, the first model to use the maker’s full range of so-called SkyActiv technologies. Mazda has landed on the podium once before, however, with a win for the older CX-9 crossover four years ago.
Being named a 2013 NACTOY finalist, said spokesman Tom McDonald, “demonstrates how a company can build a car that’s fun-to-drive, has great fuel economy and has a great package.
If tradition holds, the eventual Car and Truck-of-the-Year winners will extensively promote their victories throughout 2013.
In full disclosure, Paul A. Eisenstein is a member of the North American Car and Truck/Utility jury.
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