It may be a bit late, but the New Year clearly got off to a good start for Ford Motor Co. Tuesday as the automaker’s newly revived Bronco was named North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, while the all-new Maverick pickup was honored as the North American Truck of the Year.
Honda’s 11th-generation Civic, meanwhile, was named North American Car of the year by the 50 U.S. and Canadian journalists who make up the NACTOY jury.
Founded in 1994, members of that group called this one of the toughest years ever to pick winners. And the nine finalists in the three categories underscored the dramatic transformation reshaping the automotive industry, noted NACTOY President Gary Witzenburg.
Finalists broke new ground
The dozens of vehicles introduced for the 2022 model year were whittled down to just nine finalists through a three-step voting process. Those finalists included four Asian models, two from traditional Detroit manufacturers and one European.
But the other two came from U.S.-based startups, Rivian with its R1T all-electric pickup, and Lucid with the battery-powered Air sedan. In fact, there were three battery-electric vehicles including the Hyundai Ioniq. And other finalists, such as the Ford Maverick, are, or soon will be, offered with hybrid options.
Notably, Ford took home two trophies for the second year in a row. But Honda’s Civic now has collected a win as North American Car of the Year three times since NACTOY was founded.
Double win for Ford
The Ford Maverick beat out both the Rivian R1T and the Hyundai Santa Cruz. Both the Ford and Hyundai models are notable for helping revive the compact pickup segment, which had vanished in recent years. Jurors found several features particularly appealing about Maverick, starting with its base price of under $20,000. And that is for the high-mileage hybrid package offered on the truck.
“We saw a place in the market where people were looking for a very versatile vehicle and a very affordable vehicle,” said Kumar Galhotra, president of Ford North America.
After collecting the trophy for the Maverick, Galhotra was called back onto the stage for Ford’s other win. The Bronco, he acknowledged, faced equally tough competition from the all-electric Ioniq 5 and the luxurious Genesis GV70.
Bronco takes a distinctly different direction, offering potential buyers a rugged truck that is known to some fans as the GOAT — short for “go anywhere, any time.” The debut of the 2022 Bronco revives a once-popular nameplate. Its launch was troubled, however, due to problems with the utility vehicle’s removable top, and it came to market months later than expected. But demand has so far well exceeded Ford’s production capacity.
“We made some tough calls to exit the sedan market and focus on icons like Bronco,” Galhotra said after the awards were announced. With Maverick and Bronco, he added, Ford has been able “to fill segments where we didn’t have entries.”
Even though Ford took two of the three awards, however, the Ford president said the NACTOY finalists serve as “a sign of the transformation of our industry.”
Other executives agreed that the coming years are likely to see other surprises in the choice of finalists, with more hybrids and battery-electric vehicles a foregone conclusion.
Honda does it again
Of the three trophies handed out by NACTOY, the choice of the Honda Civic was clearly the most conservative. The sedan went through a significant makeover for 2022 but doesn’t stray all that far from its familiar formula as a roomy, well-equipped offering in the passenger car segment. That alone is significant considering Civic sales have remained solid at a time when demand for passenger cars has slumped, millions of buyers migrating to SUVs, CUVs and pickups.
The Japanese automaker has entries in all of those segments but Civic remains “a pillar of what American Honda does,” said Nate Almond, a regional sales executive who collected the NACTOY trophy.