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Car of the Year Awards – when less is more

publication date: Oct 13, 2015
 | 
author/source: Captain Pugwash

 

And the Car of the Year is …………. the Proxima 380 Turbo Plus, or is it? 

 

Depending on who you believe and which publication you read there are at least another six ‘Cars of the Year’ award winners! Now that’s already far too many.

Add all individual COTY category winners so beloved by motoring magazines, websites and even regional groups of motoring writers and there are more than 100 ‘winners’! Some are objective and most are driven by commercial considerations. But with so many different COTY awards who should we believe and trust? 

Certainly not the Germans. Last year the head of Germany’s highly respected and largest motoring organisation, the ADAC, admitted that results of its prestigious COTY award for 2014 were manipulated to ensure that the title went to the VW Golf. Questions were then being asked about the 2012 and 2013 results.

In the good old days when life was simple and much less commercial there was just the European Car of the Year. It may not have been perfect, judging by some of its winners, but it was accepted and trusted. Today it is judged by 58 leading and experienced motoring journalists from 22 countries who have access to all the latest models and are usually objective in their judgements. 

I say usually because, a little like the voting on the Eurovision song contest, there is evidence to suggest that national loyalties take precedence over objectivity. Jury members from France and Italy for example have been known to favour their respective manufacturers’ products. 

The ECOTY was introduced in 1964. Its objective was to recognise the best, most innovative and advanced new car on the market. But when the Porsche 928 was voted the winner in 1978, pressure from many mainstream vehicle manufacturers ensured that in subsequent years cars would be recognised more for their relevance rather than for their excellence. The best were no longer in contention. 

The following year the winner was the unremarkable Chrysler Horizon ahead of the equally unremarkable Fiat Strada. And since 1964 a French car has been victorious 17 times and an Italian car 12 while a Volkswagen has won just three times and BMW ….. never.

Some vehicle manufacturers become obsessive about winning and will do anything and everything to ensure their vehicles impress the judges. But sometimes this overwhelming desire to win can lead to cars that bear only a passing resemblance to the production cars that will be displayed in a dealer’s showroom. 

Doors that close with a quality sounding ‘thunk’ on a press demonstrator rather than with a less than convincing ‘crash’ in the showroom do so because extra welds and  sound deadening material have been applied. And to ensure that the performance is still as claimed engines need to be tuned to compensate for the extra weight carried by specially prepared press cars. 

This effort to impress is nothing new. It has been suggested that the headline grabbing 150 mph maximum speed achieved by the first road tests of the Jaguar E-type back in 1960 was never seen on production cars which would do well to get close to 140 mph!

Some motoring writers' groups and many motoring magazines and websites produce annual car awards both as a service to their readers but more importantly to provide a timely commercial boost or effectively pay for the group members to enjoy a free dinner with wine of course, and lavish accommodation.

Why do you think they have so many categories? The more ‘winners’ the more potential advertisers and sponsors especially if linked to a money-spinning gala awards dinner. Cheers to that I hear some say. 

And some of the categories do seem somewhat contrived. For example one weekly motoring magazine has separate award categories for convertibles as well as for roadsters. Why can’t they decide on just one – are they afraid of alienating vehicle manufacturers? 

But it would be wrong to suggest that winners are sometimes predetermined by relationships between a journalist and a vehicle manufacturer, annual advertising budgets or by the somewhat extravagant activities of PR departments. 

The award helps a manufacturer to publicise its new car, it sells magazines, attracts website visitors and boosts the corporate coffers. But the increasing number of such awards greatly devalues the accolade.

There is no denying that some COTY award winners are worthy of the accolade. Those that are will enjoy commercial success on merit. The less worthy will use the accolade to try to turn a pig’s ear into a silk purse.   Captain Pugwash

 



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