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Talking Points - Rewarding times for awards organisers

There have been one or two raised eyebrows in the past about the final choice (Chrysler Horizon in 1979? Renault 9 in 1982? And Citroen XM in 1990?) and the xenophobic nature of the voting (with all the Italians voting for Fiat products and all the French for Renault or PSA models).

But this year, none of the above applies. The much-coveted prize went to the Renault Clio, which was praised especially for its quality, safety, comfort and space. Several described the winner of Car of the Year 2006 award as the new benchmark for its category, although at nearly 4m in length, it has almost out-grown the small car class of the first and second generation Clios.

Unusually, the Clio gained a maximum 10-point score from just one juror, and the French jurors didn’t score it especially highly. Nor did Italy particularly favour the Alfa Romeo 159 which came third.

But this is just one of many, many awards. In America, the 2006 Motor Trend Car of the Year Award – after 57 years, probably the most coveted and most recognised honour in the US automotive industry – went to the Honda Civic.
“Honda deserves a standing ovation for not playing it safe again,” said Angus MacKenzie, editor-in-chief of Motor Trend. “With the sizzling Si, a sleek coupe, an elegant sedan, and a hybrid that averages 50 miles per gallon, each model shines through with what Motor Trend looks for when crowning Car of the Year. The engineering passion that Honda Motor Company was founded on radiates from these new Civics.”

Motor Trend’s undoubted enthusiasm for the Civic was mirrored in the results of the 2006 North American Car of the Year event, which presented its top honour to the Honda Civic Hybrid.

That model is also on the shortlist of the grandiosely-named World Car of the Year awards which are due to be announced at the New York Auto Show in April. But the Renault Clio is nowhere to be seen. Nor is the Bugatti Veyron which has been announced as Car of the Year on the MSN motoring website. And nor is the Land Rover Discovery, recently crowned as AXA Car of the Year in Northern Ireland.

Just over the border from Ulster, the Irish Motoring Writers Association voted the Suzuki Swift the Irish Car of the Year 2006 – and this model is on the World Car of the Year shortlist.

In fact the Swift has done very well, also being named Car of the Year by Car magazine in the UK, and by India’s Business Standard though it wasn’t even shortlisted in the European Car of the Year voting process.
Most of these awards are a relatively inoffensive means of drumming up a bit of publicity for magazines and websites, but there is more than a hint of suspicion that the sole raison d’etre of some awards ceremonies is to raise money for the organisers.

For example, American’s Road & Travel magazine recently presented its Car of the Year Awards in 10 categories at the Detroit Show, and was hawking around sponsorship packages costing up to $100,000 for the awards dinner at the Detroit Marriot Renaissance Hotel. This revenue, of course, is on top of the ticket prices paid by the hapless motor manufacturers hosting tables at the event which Road & Travel tell us was “presented with the flair of the Academy Awards”.

Similarly in the UK, the What Car? awards, involving a massive dinner dance at one of London’s grander hotels, are structured in such a way to ensure there are so many different categories that a hefty proportion of the motor manufacturers will find their way up on the stage during the evening, and will therefore take tables at the event.
Like the Car of the Year jury, What Car? picked the Renault Clio as its top winner this year. But while there is no suggestion that What Car’s editorial team are anything other than wholly professional in the choice of winners (though picking the BMW 5-Series year after year in the Executive category is getting rather wearing), it remains a fact that the event surely results in a significant financial boost to Haymarket’s coffers.

Carmakers gear up for ‘no frills’ motoring

It’s interesting to see that both motor manufacturers and OE suppliers are looking ever more closely at smaller, low-cost cars. Maybe they’ve been scrutinising the airline industry and the massive growth in no-frills travel and reckon they’ve seen the writing on the wall.

Whatever, Renault is clearly giving the Logan a great deal of its attention and at the recent Geneva Show CEO Carlos Ghosen made clear he wanted to see its subsidiary Dacia putting four new models into production in the near future.
Also announced at Geneva was the news that Toyota is working on a new low-cost brand for developing markets, especially east and central Europe, Russia, China and Brazil. “Demand for low-cost vehicles will increase in both developed and emerging markets,” predicted Toyota’s president Katsuaki Watanabe.

Apparently Toyota’s plan is not just to produce at least two new low-cost models, but also to create a dedicated sales channel for these cars, one of which may be produced in conjunction with Fiat’s Turkish subsidiary Tofas.

At Bosch, the world’s largest parts supplier since the demise of the bankrupt US company Delphi, executives are also expecting an increase in business from low-cost manufacturers.  The company predicts that growth in cars costing less than g7,000 (around £5,000) will run at three times the market rate in the near future and sees potential increased business coming from companies such as Dacia, Toyota, Tata of India and a number of Chinese companies including Geely.

Bosch predicts that low-cost cars will account for 12 million units by 2015. By that time the total market will be around 80 million units, so if Bosch’s figures are correct, low-cost cars will account for 15 per cent of the world market within 10 years. That offers both a fantastic opportunity for established motor manufacturers, but also the potential for many sleepless nights.