The Ford Mustang Mach-E, the automaker’s first long-range battery-electric vehicle, was named North American Utility Vehicle of the Year on Monday, with the Ford F-150 chosen as Truck of the Year and the Hyundai Elantra rounding things out as the Car of the Year.
The virtual awards ceremony Monday morning capped off a year-long search for winners by a jury of 50 U.S. and Canadian automotive journalist that was made “very challenging … in many ways” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said NACTOY President Gary Witzenburg.
A total of 43 different vehicles were eventually included in the judging process, though the number changed several times as automakers struggled with the limitations posed by the pandemic, some product launches delayed by a year or more.
“All of us know how complex and difficult it is to be bring (products) to the market. The process was made incrementally more complex this year by COVID,” said Kumar Galhotra, Ford president of the Americas and International Group.
But the automaker pulled out all the stops to get both the F-150 and the Mustang Mach-E out on time, even though production volumes were more limited than normal at the end of 2020.
Both wins are critical for Ford, especially the Mustang Mach-E. The automaker was an earlier pioneer of electrification, with a mix of hybrids, plug-ins and pure battery-electric vehicles. But entries like the C-Max Energi, a PHEV, and the all-electric Focus EV gained relatively little traction and Ford originally planned to bring out a relatively mundane, longer-range SUV that company officials acknowledged would have likely generated marginal sales.
The project was halted halfway through and Ford launched a complete redesign, upgrading everything from its styling to its powertrain. It also made the initially controversial decision to use the Mustang name for the new, all-electric SUV. The only way that would work, said Galhotra, would be to deliver the sort of performance and energy associated with the classic Mustang coupe.
The Mach-E signals other electrification plans Ford has in the works, including a pure battery-electric version of the F-150 coming in the 2022 model year, said the truck’s chief engineer Craig Schmatz.
It will arrive around the same time as both General Motors’ new GMC Hummer, as well as the eagerly awaited Tesla Cybertruck. This flood of new, all-electric products means that “Tesla may face its first competitive challenge,” according to Cox Automotive analyst Michelle Krebs.
It was the conventionally powered, 2021 Ford F-150 that nabbed honors as the NACTOY Truck of the Year. The full-size F-Series, overall, comprises the best-selling pickup in the U.S., as well as the country’s top-selling nameplate overall. But Ford lost momentum in 2020, General Motors becoming the nation’s largest pickup producer when factoring in both the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. So, the 2021 F-Series is carrying a lot of weight as Ford aims to regain that sales crown.
Winning the NACTOY award will help F-150, as well as Mustang Mach-E, said Galhotra. “We intend to take full advantage of this to build both” awards in marketing and other promotional efforts in the months ahead, he said during a news conference Monday morning.
Light trucks, in general, now dominate the U.S. automotive market, accounting for more than three-quarters of new vehicle sales last year. And Cox Automotive last week forecast that could reach 81% in 2021.
Still, some manufacturers remain committed to the segment, including Nissan, which had a runner-up in the Car-of-the-Year category with the newly redesigned Sentra, as well as Hyundai Motor Group. Its Genesis G80 was another runner-up, while the Elantra took the Car crown.
“We are really so proud of this tremendous recognition,” said Hyundai’s U.S. CEO Joe Munoz.
At a time when other automakers are trimming back investments on sedans, coupes and sports cars – Ford abandoning passenger cars all but entirely – Hyundai has continued bringing new ones to market, Munoz saying during the virtual awards ceremony that, “We are going to continue to invest. We still remain very committed and confident about this segment.”
Hyundai took the unusual step of not only bringing out the mainstream version of the 2021 Elantra but also introducing two new performance versions, the Elantra N Sport and Elantra N.
This marks the second time the compact sedan line won honors as the North American Car of the Year. It originally did in 2012. This marks the fourth win by the Hyundai brand in the various NACTOY categories. Sibling Kia took Utility Vehicle of the Year honors in 2020 for the Telluride.
Other finalists for North American Truck of the Year were the Ram 1500 TRX and the Jeep Gladiator Mojave. The two other finalists in the Utility Vehicle category were the Genesis GV80 and the Land Rover Defender.