The Truth About Intellichoice Awards
TTAC has not been shy about its scepticism regarding the owner satisfaction and quality surveys produced by JD Power, and the commercial links to the industry that they monitor. We have also pointed out that Consumer Reports' "secret sauce" (i.e. their analytical formulae) have certain limitations. Until now, we've overlooked another source of auto manufacturers' braggin' rights: the Intellichoice awards. While you'll hear Intellichoice mentioned in the same breath as JD Power in more than a few automotive advertisements, Intellichoice's awards don't get nearly the same scrutiny. It's time to correct this oversight.
Intellichoice offers awards in five broad categories: Motorist Choice, Best Deals of the Month, Best Overall Value, Smartchoice (with six subcategories) and Best Certified Pre-Owned Programs. They subdivide each of these categories by vehicle type, e.g. car, crossover, near luxury and convertible. Many of these categories are subdivided even further. I counted no less than 240 permutations, and I could have missed a few.
If that wasn't confusing enough, cars jump from class to class depending on the award. The Toyota Yaris was named "Best Overall Value – Subcompact Class." But when it comes to the "Low Ownership Costs" award, the Yaris lives in the "Compact" category. The Chevrolet HHR is the "Small Wagon" winner for "Low Maintenance Costs" but "Compact Crossover SUV" winner in the "Motorist Choice Awards." For the same award, the Lexus IS is the "Aspirational Luxury Car" but it's in the "Near Luxury Class" as the "Best Overall Value of the Year."
Intellichoice also categorizes certain cars differently from everyone else. Did you know that the Nissan Altima is a "Premium Mid-Size Car" and the Porsche Boxster is a "Luxury Convertible"? Apparently, the Honda Accord is a "Compact" ("Lowest Maintenance Cost") and the Lexus SC 430 is a "Premium Sports Car"– except when it's a "Luxury Convertible" ("Lowest Repair Costs").
Another mystery: why do certain vehicles receive awards when the exact same model with a different body style (i.e. coupe vs. sedan) doesn't make the grade? Intellichoice names the aforementioned Toyota Yaris named "Best Value – Subcompact Class" is only the hatchback model; the four-door wasn't included. Several pickup truck awards were given to the crew cab and extended cab models while the standard cabs stood on the sidelines.
After looking at Intellichoice's wide selection of seemingly arbitrary accolades, you can't help but feel that the gongs fall into the same category as kindergarten sports awards. Both processes seem aimed at preserving the delicate self esteem of a bunch of five-year-olds. Last year, almost every company that sells a car or truck in the U.S. received at least one Intellichoice award. Even floundering Isuzu was awarded "Lowest Maintenance Cost" in the "Small Pickup" category.
This "something for everyone" mindset extends to a few of this website's Ten Worst Automobiles Today (TWAT) winners. The dead van walking Chevy Uplander won "Best Overall Value" in the "Cargo Van" category. It's almost-as-bad corporate cousin, the Buick Rendezvous, won an Intellichoice award for "Lowest Maintenance Costs" in the "Midsize Crossover" class. And the TWAT-worthy Aveo5 won in the "Subcompact Class" of the same category.
It's obvious that a lot of awards given out by various magazines and newspapers are influenced (if not totally driven) by the pursuit of the almighty advertising dollar. But even though there are links to get free quotes on vehicles, and links to finance and insurance companies, Intellichoice's website doesn't offer any direct links to automakers' sites or car ads. There's no indication of any outside influences that would entice the organization to devise such convoluted awards and then hand them out like candy.
That is, until you realize Intellichoice.com is owned by Primedia, the same company that brings us Motor Trend and Automobile magazines. While each of these magazines has their own (dubious) annual awards for a variety of vehicles, neither of them approach Intellichoice in number or complexity of awards. But both of them enjoy plenty of lucrative automobile manufacturer advertising revenue. These same manufacturers also drop big bucks for advertisements in other Primedia's other magazines.
Running a web site as timely and data rich as Intellichoice is an expensive business. Not to belabor the point, but the money to run their site comes from Primedia, which gets the majority of its revenue from advertisements. You don't bite the hand that's feeding you. Intellichoice has to keep Primedia's advertising clients happy. And if that means coming up with a few hundred awards to give out (some on a monthly basis), then so be it.
And there's the fundamental problem. Just as an award for "Most Improved Left-Handed Pattycake Player" only resonates with the recipient's mother, the awards handed out by Intellichoice mean nothing to anyone but the manufacturers. Considering the low profile of most of these awards, you have to wonder if they mean anything at all.
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