What Does an Automotive Press Association Do With $306,000 of Automaker Cash?
This week, Canada’s most vaunted automotive journalists are at the nation’s best known race track — Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, or Mosport if you’re over the age of 12 — putting the market’s newest vehicles through their paces in a series of tests to select the Canadian Car of the Year.
This year’s event is, on the surface, no different from prior years. However, there is something truly exceptional about the event, dubbed TestFest, for 2016.
The award for Canadian Car of the Year, no matter which automaker wins it, doesn’t matter in the least.
“What makes a ‘best new’ winner?” asks the latest press release from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). It’s a good question, surely, because most Canadians have no idea what goes into considering and selecting the best new Canadian vehicle in any given year.
So I’ll tell you.
Disclosure: I was once a member of AJAC, but haven’t been for a few years.
The basics: any vehicle is eligible to enter if it’s new or significantly redesigned in the current model year or didn’t compete when it was released in a previous model year. (There are some exceptions, but I’m giving you the basics.) Depending on how the car is configured, it’s placed in one of many categories. Each category has at least three entries, meaning some categories are skipped depending on if there are only two or fewer entries for that category in a given year. For example, even though the Honda Ridgeline is new this year, there’s no pickup category this year because of a lack of entrants, so the Ridgeline will still be eligible next year.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the categories that do exist this year:
Mini Clubman (Cooper)
The small car segments are hotly contested in Canada and picking from five different eligible vehicles is a monumental task. However, there is a notable absence here: the 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback.
It’s even more notable when you realize the 2016 Honda Civic Sedan was Canadian Car of the Year for 2016.
It’s further driven home when you learn the Honda Civic is the best-selling car in Canada.
The new hatchback would’ve likely given the rest of the field a run for its money — but we’ll never know if it’s better than Canada’s second-best-selling car, the Hyundai Elantra, because the Korean compact won’t be eligible next year.
Let’s look at another category:
Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid
Kia Optima HEV
Toyota Prius (Technology Package)
Volkswagen Golf (Alltrack)
Now, you — the Best and Brightest — should be able to figure out what’s wrong with this list. However, if you’re a casual reader of TTAC or automotive media in general, I’ll let you in on the boondoggle: there’s not a single full-size car in this list. Not. A. Single. One. The Chevrolet Malibu and Kia Optima are considered by most to be midsize sedans. The Toyota Prius and Volkswagen Golf are compacts.
Notice something weird about this next category?
SPORTS – PERFORMANCE CAR
Fiat 124 Spider
Ford Focus (RS)
Hyundai Elantra (Sport)
Or this one?
FULL-SIZE UTILITY VEHICLE
What about this one?
PREMIUM UTILITY VEHICLE
Lexus RX350 (F Sport Series 3)
Maserati Levante S
Mercedes-Benz GLC (GLC 300 4MATIC)
I don’t think Sally Soccermom is going to cross-shop the Buick Envision with a Maserati Levante, but maybe the buying public is weirder than I thought.
Regardless of what you think of the segments above and how journalists select the winners of those categories, there’s another massive part of this that needs to be made crystal clear.
Neither Nissan nor Infiniti bothered to show up this year. Audi hasn’t shown up for years. And a lot of it comes down to cost.
For each entry, AJAC requires the manufacturer to provide three identically equipped vehicles plus an entry fee of $9,000. Considering there are 34 entries this year, that means AJAC is fundraising $306,000 CAD directly from the automakers.
But wait — AJAC said in the first sentence of its latest press release that it’s testing “100 vehicles for the purpose of voting on the ‘Best New’ cars and SUVs for 2017.”
Yes, there are 102 vehicles at TestFest, but AJAC members are only considering 34 separate models.
So, you tell me: when a number of manufacturers refuse to take part because of the exorbitant fees demanded by AJAC, when the categories make zero sense, and when the winner from the previous year is eligible but didn’t enter, who is AJAC serving?
When the organization lines its collective pocket with over quarter of a million dollars of automaker cash, is it in that organization’s best interest to stop even if it isn’t helping the consumer?
I think you know the answer.
Pch101 on Oct 29, 2016
"there’s not a single full-size car in this list" You should put this into context. There are essentially two categories for this price class: "small" and "full-size." There is no intermediate/compact class or something else in between. They are being arbitrary, to a point. The Optima is classed as a full-size car (presumably based upon interior volume), but this thing has compacts in both the "small" and "full-size" slots. I would presume that they did not have enough entrants, so they ended up including compacts in both categories in order to take up the space. The pay-to-play aspect is the real problem here, of course. A lot of "awards" are gimmicks -- the public loves lists and rankings, no matter how useless that they may be, a fact that is not lost on this particular organization -- and this appears to be one of those.
Lou_BC on Oct 29, 2016
I don't tend to pay attention to test rankings. I'll look at test criteria and how they "weight" categories. If they don't bother to explain their test criteria I don't even bother looking any further. Too many "motojourno's" are just presstitutes whoring themselves out for the keys to the test fleet.
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