Earlier this week, our columnist Morgan Naidu expressed some concern with the manner in which the annual SA Guild of Motoring Journalists runs its Car of the Year contest. The contest's governing body has taken issue with Morgan's viewpoint. Here is its response.
Morgan Naidu's opinion of the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists' Car of the Year competition refers.
In constructing his column he has relied on many ancient myths for his journalistic creativity - some about as old fashioned as Miss Bronkhorstspruit beauty pageants.
I would like to respond by setting out the facts regarding the structure of the Car of the Year competition:
Car of the Year finalists are selected by a vote involving all of the Guild's full members - about 150 motoring journalists who represent the print media, radio, television and websites.
About 90% of South Africa's motoring journalists are members of the Guild.
The Validation Committee comprises senior motoring journalists: Adrian Burford (AA Motorist); Ferdi de Vos (Wiel); Steve Dlamini (City Press); Denis Droppa (Star Motoring); Glen Hill (Citizen Motoring); Leo Kok (Beeld); Wynter Murdoch (Automobil) and Colin Windell (Autonews).
The Validation Committee is appointed by Steve Dlamini, who is chairman of the Car of the Year committee, part of his portfolio as vice-chairman of the Guild.
It is the Validation Committee's job to ensure that the models selected by Guild members are eligible to take part in the competition in terms of release date. Where face-lifted derivatives are concerned, the Validation Committee makes recommendations regarding eligibility in terms of significant technical or engineering upgrades.
Further, where votes of members have been split between derivatives within a model range, the Validation Committee makes recommendations regarding a preferred choice.
The Car of the Year assessment team comprises 32 jury members, male and female - all motoring journalists who, as part of their daily work, are involved in assessing vehicles for newspapers, magazines and websites, or for television and radio programmes.
On tests days jury members are helped by assistants - also motoring journalists - who act as navigators and co-drivers, but who do not score the vehicles.
After serving two terms, assistants are eligible to be elected to the jury. Jury members also serve two terms and must be nominated for re-election.
Finalists in the Car of the Year competition are determined by a majority vote of jury members, who approve the models from a shortlist comprising the most popular vehicles as voted for by the broad membership.
By majority vote, the jury can overrule recommendations of the Validation Committee.
The number of cars selected to take part in the competition is not fixed, but is determined by jury members on the basis of the number of votes each model has received from the full membership.
The cut-off point comes where the vote drops significantly from one vehicle to the next - termed the 107% rule.
The Guild believes the competition to be significant because it helps to specify from hundreds of models on the market which recently launched passenger vehicles are deemed to epitomise all round automotive superiority.
By identifying development benchmarks, the competition also serves as a watchdog for industry standards - and importantly acts as an authoritative guide for consumers in the new car market.
While all finalists in the competition initially are deemed worthy of receiving the ultimate accolade, it's only after a three-day, 75-point independent assessment of each of the vehicles by every member of the jury that the winner is determined on the basis of scores allocated, the score sheets audited independently by Deloitte.
Cars are judged on their merits in terms of the benchmarks they set for the classes in which they compete. In that way models from all classes are evaluated equally.
This year, the models will undergo evaluation at the Gerotek Test Facility near Pretoria, the assessment encompassing high speed dynamic ability; an autokhana test to mark manoeuvrability, parking prowess and general ease of control, and driving tests under various conditions on track and road. Fuel economy will also be scored.
In addition, a static evaluation of each finalist will contribute to the car's score in terms of aesthetics, build quality and ergonomics, while considerations based on perceptions of value for money, cost of a spares basket, safety features and emission standards contribute to overall points.
Prior to the jury's assessment, finalists will undergo professional, independent testing against the clock to establish acceleration times, top speed, braking ability and other performance standards, the figures obtained supplied to jury members to take into consideration when conducting their own evaluations.
Comprehensive specifications relating to class rivals are also supplied for comparison purposes.
Results are sealed by Deloitte until the night in March when the winner is announced. Only then does the jury know which of the models it has collectively scored as the winner.
Most countries in the world run similar Car of the Year competitions, the difference being that the majority require motoring journalists simply to vote for models on the basis of what the cars are perceived to represent, rather than to physically test them.
In this sense the one-winner format adopted by the SAGMJ is not unique - Fiat's reinvented 500, for instance, is Europe's Car of the Year for 2008, the model beating off all comers on the strength of its automotive excellence.
South Africa's Car of the Year competition is sponsored by WesBank - and has been for 23 years - with support this year from Total, Hollard Insurance, Garmin and Protea Hotels. The unveiling of the Car of the Year winner is regarded as one of the premier events on the country's automotive calendar.
While all of the models in the competition are deemed to represent examples of outstanding automotive technology and engineering, the vehicle that epitomises all round automotive superiority is the model, from whatever class, that collectively scores highest.
In the Guild's view, selecting a Car of the Year for each market segment would dilute the significance of the competition - and serve to confuse, too.
Having multiple Cars of the Year instead of an overall champion would be akin to dividing the F1 field into segments - front runners, mid-grid and also-rans - and crowning a champion for each.
More to the point, in terms of current Car of the Year rules, any passenger model from any segment launched within the required time frame is eligible to take part, thus all models and vehicle types have an equal opportunity to be nominated as finalists.
This year, in an attempt to introduce a man-in-the-street element to the evaluation process, randomly selected entrants to the Win the Car of the Year for a Year Competition will be invited to attend the test days at Gerotek as observers, the aim being for members of the public to gain more understanding and insight into the testing format - an invaluable experience from a motor enthusiast or consumer perspective.
The views of the observers will be included in a television programme to be filmed over the test days. The programme will be broadcast on M-Net as part of WesBank's Super Series slot.
Similarly, the winner of the Win the Car of the Year for a Year Competition - whose name will be drawn in March following the announcement of the winning vehicle - will take part in a series of television programmes aimed at documenting his or her experience with the winning car.
Outdated? A relic from a bygone era? I don't think so. I believe the Car of the Year competition to be a genuine attempt by the majority of South Africa's motoring journalists to find the vehicle that best represents automotive superiority.
In finding that winner, I believe the competition to be structured democratically, transparently and fairly.
Interestingly, score sheets like the ones used for the Car of the Year test days are available to all Guild members for their professional use when assessing vehicles in terms their daily work - and have been for the past two years. Perhaps the day will come when those completed score sheets will be used in the process to select the finalists - or to determine the winner.
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