The Range Rover Evoque won the Truck of the Year Award in 2012; however, SUVs will now have their own honor at the Detroit Auto Show.

After more than 20 years, the North American Car and Truck awards will be going through some big changes this year, including the addition of a third award to be presented during the opening ceremony of the Detroit Auto Show next January.

The addition of an award for the best SUV reflects one of the biggest changes to sweep through the U.S. auto industry in decades. Light trucks, in general, now account for about 60% of the American new vehicle market, utility vehicles accounting for the lion’s share of that growth.

“SUVs’ booming popularity is changing the auto industry,” said Mark Phelan, NACTOY president. “Customers use SUVs for everything from work to family transportation to off-road recreation. The NACTOY jury recognizes that with the new award.”

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Until now, crossover- and more traditional sport-utility vehicles have been lumped together with pickups, vans and other light trucks. The shift acknowledges the fact that utes, in general, are close to overtaking sedans in terms of annual sales.

What was originally known as the North American Car of the Year was founded in 1994, setting out to offer an alternative to tradition car-of-the-year awards. Today, there are 60 professional automotive journalists from the United States and Canada serving on the jury (in full disclosure, including myself). The goal was and remains to avoid the inherent bias of any single media outlet, said Phelan.

“The jury’s diversity of viewpoints and experience makes NACTOY unique, and uniquely valuable to people who are shopping for just the right vehicle,” Phelan said. “That was the vision of the jury’s founder, Chris Jensen, longtime auto writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and New York Times.”

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Jensen retired as a voting juror several years ago and this year is relinquishing the reins to Phelan, himself an autowriter veteran now working for the Detroit Free Press. He was elected to the new post of NACTOY President this spring, along with new vice president Matt DeLorenzo, managing editor, news, Kelley Blue Book. Lauren Fix, the Car Coach and automotive critic for multiple television and radio outlets, will serve as the non-profit organization’s secretary-treasurer.

Considering the flood of new products coming to market this year, NACTOY jurors are expected to engage in a multi-stage process to winnow out the three winners. At least 60 vehicles will initially be considered.

Jurors will begin with a first round vote in June. The semi-finalists will be narrowed to three finalists in each category, that announcement to come on Dec. 6.

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The winners will then be announced during the opening of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Jan. 9, 2017.

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