Are cars and car companies that are awarded the "Car of the Year" award cursed? Or are the people at Motor Trend just clueless about cars?
It is that time of year again, and CNN is hyping Motor Trend's "Car of the Year" selection process (Motor Trend being a sister company). Unfortunately, these car magazine awards are really meaningless. Some are bought outright, others are awarded to loyal advertisers. And not having the advantage of hindsight, in many cases, real LEMONS are selected, year after year.
Motor Trend seems to be the most astute at picking losers and calling them "Car of the Year." In fact, it is almost a curse, in a manner of speaking. If you look at the historical record, nearly every car selected by Motor Trend was a piece of crap, or at best, mediocre. Only once in a while did they pick a really significant car as "Car of the Year." Most of the time they blew it - big time.
Motor Trend often defends its decisions by arguing that the car in question was "significant" or ground-breaking. In other words, the Vega might have been a piece of crap, but it represented a serious move by GM to get into the small-car business. This may be true, but I am not sure we should reward effort, when it results in abject failure - particularly when there are others who are making the effort and succeeding. I also think this is just a post-hoc justification for horrific choices. And if you look at their historic record, it seems the criteria for picking cars changed over time.
Few of these cars were good choices for consumers at the time. A late-model secondhand car of higher quality could have been had for the same price and delivered better service and value. And as you go down this list, you see a lot of cheap and cheaply made cars on the list. You don't see the Mercedes S-Class or BMW 5-series anywhere - not even a Lexus! The iconic BMW 3-seris (E-30 platform) arguably is more relevant that all of these cars combined (and is the model for many of these "Me too!" marques). Yet nowhere is it mentioned.
The point is - and I think you will agree with me after reading this list - that picking a car based on "Car of the Year" is pretty idiotic, as the choices are often dubious, poor, or just plain strange. It is not an indicia of quality, reliability, or value. In fact, one could argue, after reading this list, that cars branded with "Car of the Year" should be avoided at all costs!
Anyway, here is a list of their "Car of the Year" cars and how they have fared. Even the cars of recent years are dubious choices. Warning, you may need to take a shower after reading this list! There are some real turds!
caché with the rice-racer crowd, and Nissan decided to at least badge a car with the letters (if not the name) for US sale (The real Skyline is apparently available as an Infiniti). A nearly $50,000 car, it represents Nissan's entry into Luxury-Performance territory, albeit at the lower end. This ain't no $20,000 Shitsubishi! (So the kids might not be buying these cars.) And it arguably is a huge improvement over the unloved and unlamented 300Z cars, including the last bloated iteration (yuk!). The GT-R probably represents one of Motor Trends few good picks in recent years. But, it is still a Nissan.
Lift-throttle oversteer kicks in, and it is fun to watch! And no, your insurance doesn't cover you when you plant it into the wall on track day....
Celica Supra, which would have been more sporty.
BMW 3.0 CSA coupe. Hell, even a Jaguar would have been a better value! And that's saying a lot. This is truly a "WTF?" pick for car of the year!
The next few cars are really not poor choices, at the time. And perhaps different editors were at the helm at Motor Trend back in the day - editors who liked muscle cars, apparently. Of course, the specific choices may seem somewhat odd, given that more significant cars were introduced in the same model year. But again, these "awards" are often bought and sold in the Automotive Journalism game.
* * *
So there you have it. Are there some winners in there? Maybe a few. Are there some mediocre cars in there? Yea, a lot. Are their some real stinkers that no one in their right mind would consider "Car of the Year"? Yea, quite a few - the Vega, the Citation, the Citroen, the Mustang II, the Monza, the Aspen, the K Car, just to name a few.
Are any of these car collectable today? Some of the muscle cars on the list are coveted, to be sure. And others are "collectable" by dint of their sheer age. But not many people are pining for a "cherry" Chevy Citation or Renault Alliance, even if you could run them with "Antique" tags in most States. In terms of history, too, Motor Trend pretty much got it all wrong.
And I already know what some detractors will say. "Well, maybe the Vega and Mustang II were pieces of crap, but they sold an awful lot of them!" Yes, and McDonald's sells a lot of hamburgers and Budweiser a lot of "lite beer" - but that doesn't make either of those products haute cuisine or even a particular value. In fact, they are both crap, and there are better choices available, in the same price range, with a much higher level of quality. Picking a "popular" car is not hard to do - just look at sales figures. But even here, Motor Trend missed the boat. Ford sold a million Mustangs in a little over a year - yet the original car never won the prize - only its lamer successors.
Motor Trend seems to have a hard time spotting trends. And their pick of what they think are "nice cars" is really enough to make one sick, in most instances. They tend toward pimp barges and bloated cars, like big Thunderbirds, Lincolns, Caprices (twice!) and the like. When they do pick a smaller car, it is a cheap model, like a Vega or an Omni. And this represents a certain "Old Detroit" view of things - cars should be large, bloated, and profitable, and small cars should be cheap pieces of crap that punish their owners. That was the attitude that basically handed our auto industry over to the imports.
The point is, never take the word of an Automobile Journalist on anything. They are likely to be influenced by ad dollars, if not outright on the take. When they do have an original opinion about anything, it is likely to be ill-informed. These guys are not automotive engineers, or even race car drivers. What the car magazines gush about this week ends up being recalled the next. And often, they gush about outright garbage, if because nothing else, they have nothing else to write about, and a deadline to meet.
I would take "Car of the Year" with a grain of salt. Any award bestowed on the Vega, the Citation, the K-car and the Dodge Aspen (among others) I would not want. It has what we refer to as a "dirty halo" effect. If I was Tesla Motors, I would send the award back, with a note saying "Thanks, but no thanks!"