By on May 11, 2017

AJAC Canadian Car of the Year 2016

We wrote about it. They listened.

For the general car buyer who simply wants good value from a reliable form of transport, awards can become a rat’s nest of contradictory information for those who don’t know how — or care — to evaluate the awards themselves. It behooves credible professional organizations to make their awards relevant to consumers.

It’s with this in mind that the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) evaluated its Canadian Car of the Year and Testfest programs.

After a thorough review, AJAC is significantly changing its testing methodology and scoring for Canadian Car of the Year — and it’s doing so for the betterment of car buyers.

Car enthusiasts know an award does not a good car make. Scoring and testing methodologies wildly differ (if they even exist at all), and they can then be picked apart by those who know the parts at which to pick.

Last year, we criticized the amount of effort and cost that went into AJAC’s annual Testfest, hosted at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (nee Mosport), where Canadian journalists the country over would congregate to pick Canadian Car/Truck/Utility of the Year.

Specifically, Testfest collected over $300,000 in entry fees from automakers for what amounted to a week-long journalist track day and produced an award we believed had little relevance to consumers. As AJAC limited eligible entries to “new or significantly revised” vehicles, and winners from preceding years were excluded from defending their titles, some of Canada’s most popular vehicles — those most often purchased by Canadians — weren’t considered depending on the year.

To address those concerns, AJAC will make wholesale changes to Testfest and Canadian Car of the Year.

Testfest is dead — kinda
Those in charge of AJAC’s Canadian Car/Truck/Utility of the Year program got the message — whether it be from us, automakers, journalist members, or the public — and AJAC will open up eligibility for this year’s consideration to every 2018 model year vehicle. For following years beginning in the 2019 model year, entries will again be limited to new and significantly revised vehicles, but journalists will again consider segment winners from the preceding year.

AJAC is able to include more cars because journalist voting won’t be limited to just Testfest; it will instead become a year-long process.

It has also ditched its Testfest five-day track day.

“The biggest change is that no longer will the CCOTY program rely on an intensive, five-day Testfest event for driving and rating the year’s new models, but it will become a year-long process,” explained the AJAC Board of Directors in an email to its members on Tuesday.

“In other words, voting journalists will be able to cast votes based on their regular test drives during the course of year, on drives during vehicle launch events, during EcoRun and during Testfest. For their votes to count, journalists will have to drive a minimum of five cars in their assigned categories.”

AJAC will also revise how journalists score vehicles for Canadian Car/Truck/Utility, and “overall scoring will be more subjective, although objective data will still be taken into account,” said AJAC in its email to members.

AJAC will host an open-testing event — still called Testfest and hosted at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park — scheduled over two days and coinciding with AJAC’s Annual General Meeting and Awards Banquet. The day will be open to all vehicles, regardless of time available on market in current guise.

“AJAC’s Canadian Car of the Year program has always been consumer-focused first and foremost, but we identified that there were some key changes we could make to put that focus front and centre, particularly by including more vehicles in our evaluation process,” explained Stephanie Wallcraft, director on AJAC Board of Directors in a conversation with TTAC.

“Now, when a Canadian consumer sees the Canadian Car of the Year, it will no longer be the best new car — it will be what in our view is the best car, full stop.”

Tightening the reins on costs
With the elimination of AJAC’s five-day Testfest, which previously cost the non-profit journalist association hundreds of thousands of dollars, “entry fees to OEMs have been eliminated,” stated Wallcraft. “We’ve made internal adjustments to our funding models.”

While Wallcraft would not elaborate on the specific adjustments to the funding models, Chad Heard, public relations manager for Hyundai Canada, said manufacturers would still bear the burden of some of that cost.

“From my understanding, [the OEM membership] fee will change. It will be a little larger … but we will still save a significant amount of money annually,” Heard said without elaborating on how much those membership fees will increase.

Tightening the reins on automakers
AJAC and automakers have come under fire in recent years for “gaming” the Canadian Car of the Year evaluation system. Previous techniques to “game the system” included entering cars with specific MSRPs to favor them in overall score weighting. Those techniques will no longer work under the new regiment as vehicle’s numerous trims, and not just a specific trim at Testfest, will be judged by journalists throughout the year, eliminating the opportunity to enter a low-cost entry against higher-cost competitors.

“As much as it’s our job as journalists to evaluate a vehicle as fairly as possible, OEM representatives will always put a vehicle’s best foot forward and work hard to earn it a win, which is their job,” explained Wallcraft. “That said, our new system will see us evaluating any given vehicle through a wider variety of trim levels and in a broader range of conditions than in the past, which will equate to a more accurate cross-sectional representation of its real-world value in our final scoring.”

But with a new year-long voting process, press vehicles provided by manufacturers to journalists in their press fleets nationwide are now more important than ever.

“With the new format, it raises the importance and profile of a manufacturers press fleet … if I want vehicles to be considered,” said Hyundai’s Heard. “If I want the Elantra considered, I need it in my fleet, and I don’t have an Elantra in my fleet right now.”

Driving in the right direction
“We are big supporters of AJAC and the Car of the Year process,” said Heard. “The changes to this year are significant and I think it modernizes the program.”

Most of that positivity comes from the new program’s inclusion of journalists nationwide and not just journalists who can make it to Testfest, Heard explained.

But there’s still a touch of skepticism.

“I would like to see how the products are evaluated,” said Heard.

Cort Neilson, public relations manager for Audi Canada, which has not participated in Testfest or Canadian Car of the Year for a number of years, had no comment on the changes. A representative for Honda Canada did not return multiple requests for comment.

For AJAC’s part, it’s hoping to continue with iterative improvements from this point forward.

“If this is not the largest one-time, wholesale change in format to the Canadian Car of the Year program in the association’s history, then it’s very close.” Wallcraft stated “There are bound to be hiccups as we work our way through this significantly revamped process. We’re therefore expecting to constantly evaluate every aspect of the program as we move forward. As for what we didn’t change: our emphasis continues to be on putting the needs of Canadian consumers first as they shop for their next vehicles.”

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7 Comments on “AJAC Will Finally Give Awards to the Best Cars (and Ditch Its $300,000 Journalist Track Day)...”

  • avatar

    Makes sense. It has to be relevant to the consumer. There is an important relationship between journalists and the auto industry. It has to be seen as a symbiotic one not a parasitic one or worse; presstitution.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Sounds better.

    But I wonder how much research the average car buyer does before visiting dealers, and whether *any* awards actually make a dent in sales volume.

    I’m not familiar with the CCOTY, but the Motor Trend COTY list contains some real stinkers – both in sales volume and quality:

    • 0 avatar

      Who knows? And honestly, it’s not my place to prove AJAC’s business case. That’s on them. I don’t think the average buyer gives two hoots beyond CR ratings and a few other awards. That said, I don’t think AJAC member journalists were really pushing the CCOTY award all that hard because the majority of them thought it was bullshit.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    One thing I did admire about CCOTY and AJAC is that I wish I had a job where I could force companies to pay for my week long party.

  • avatar

    I frequently took a look at this to see if a manufacturer woud refuse to send its` vehicles (hello there, GM).

  • avatar
    Avid Fan

    I can’t help but ignore awards for “best in class” anything car related.

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