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COLUMN: Whose Car of the Year?

2008-01-15 08:40

Morgan Naidu

Imagine, if you will, a beauty contest of sorts - and ladies feel free to substitute all the female references with hunky male ones...

A bevy of beauties are gathered in their bikini finery, legs tanned and silky smooth, Colgate-smiles all round, flowing tresses of hair the perfect backdrop to what are supposedly the most beautiful specimens in the land.

Imagine if the panel of judges then got to bed every single contestant.

Seriously! Every judge would partake in the diverse lineup of tall, short, dark-skinned and pale, blue-eyed and brown-eyed, blondes, brunettes, from Poffadder to Polokwane.

The judges would then meet afterwards to discuss their various experiences: which contestants showed more promise, which ones were boring, whose performances left much to be desired and, finally, who would make the shortlist for the ultimate prize.

Of course, in the interest of fairness, each adjudicator would not declare his own preferences and peculiarities, leaving out salient details like which of the judging gentleman actually preferred blondes, which one would not normally bed black women or Indian women or women with long hair or women who grew up in Bloemfontein...

On the surface, processes would be followed and stringent interviews conducted. And of course, the clincher: a robust performance assessment because the judges would want to make sure the best possible candidate won.

If it all sounds a little far-fetched or beyond reason, consider the fact that this month sees the judging take place for another beauty and performance contest of sorts - the annual Car of the Year competition.

"Left behind in a bygone era"

It is run under the auspices of the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists and backed by corporate sponsors who pay for fuel and a gala dinner at which the announcement is finally made.

To go in to the internal politics of the Guild would require its very own thesis, but politics and personal agendas aside, the organisation counts as its members a number of leading professionals in motoring journalism, as well as many industry representatives.

The flipside is that there are a number of leading professionals who prefer to have nothing to do whatsoever with an organisation that they claim is in dire need of real change.

Of the many excellent (and not-so-excellent) activities the Guild is involved in, however, it is the annual Car of the Year competition that has raised the most debate.

One motor company executive remarked recently that while the world had changed, matured and moved on, the car of the year competition and its complicated machinations had been left behind in a bygone era.

This remark drew ire from a Guild office bearer who called on media and industry alike to voice their concerns and suggestions in writing at the appropriate forum.

My own forum is in the arena of public opinion and debate and it is there I will make my suggestions for all to damn or uphold or improve on.


Despite the statistical loading that the current system of scoring on Car of the Year allows and which supposedly balances out aspects like price differences, engine sizes and power output, my contention is that in the mind of the buying public, it is ridiculous to put a nearly million rand Lexus in the same contest as a plucky little Mazda 2.

It is equally ridiculous to leave out from the final list vehicles like Kia's Sedona or Sorento with their ground-breaking 10-year or 150 000km warranties.

There have been other inconsistencies, like what actually constitutes a "new car" and does a facelift or new engine derivative a new car make?

Yet another criticism raised is that of the car of the year jury and whether all have actually had the opportunity to test and evaluate the finalists during the course of the entry year. Some will have their first interaction with a particular car at the actual car of the year finalists test session - hardly a weighty assessment.

What of the validation committee that meets to decide on the cars voted for by guild members? This is akin to a national vote for President taking place, but with final choice of candidates still being left to a select committee mandated by no-one in particular.

The fact of the matter is that there are more questions than answers and that despite tweaks in the past few years to enhance the format at the behest of wiser heads in the Guild, the car of the year competition remains more for the media and motoring industry.

Would the contest be better served by the introduction of segments for small cars, sedans, hatches, sports cars, SUVs and luxury big-hitters? Perhaps. It could also be better served if a standard appraisal form were developed and included on every single test car issued during the course of the year and evaluated by motoring media.

Ultimately, like any beauty pageant or subjective judging of talent, it's going to be impossible to please everyone, but it is the buying public that matters most. It is this consumer that seeks objectivity in road tests, relevant information and credibility.

No consumer or buyer out there would ever dare ask the question: "Is a Lexus LS460 better than the Nissan Qashqai?"

Why should Car of the Year expect the public to believe that those in the industry can answer that question any better?

This year's Car of the Year finalists are:
Lexus LS 460

  • Fiat Bravo 1.4 T-Jet Sport
  • Land Rover Freelander TD4
  • Honda CR-V diesel
  • Mazda2 1.5-litre
  • Mazda5 2.0l
  • Mercedes Benz C220 CDI
  • Nissan Qashqai
  • Toyota Corolla 1.8

    The Lexus LS460 won the World Car of the Year title in 2007 in a competition that included categories for World Performance Car, World Green Car and World Design Car.

    Disclaimer: Wheels24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Wheels24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Wheels24.


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