Midsize sedans and small crossovers dominate the list of finalists for the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards to be presented next month at the Detroit auto show.
The finalists for car of the year, released today: the Cadillac ATS, Ford Fusion and Honda Accord sedans.
In the truck category, judges must choose a winner from among the Ford C-Max hybrid crossover/van, Mazda CX-5 crossover and Ram 1500 pickup.
“There’s no obvious favorite among the finalists, but there’s a theme: efficiency,” said Mark Phelan, one of the 50 auto journalists on the panel of judges and the Detroit Free Press auto critic. “All six vehicles use the latest engineering to get more from less. Small, powerful engines, new transmissions, lightweight construction and hybrid technology are changing the nature of the vehicles we drive.”
The winners will be announced Jan. 14 during the press preview for the Detroit show, officially titled the North American International Auto Show.
Michele Krebs, a juror and senior analyst for Edmunds.com, said this was one of the most difficult years for judges in a long time, especially for cars. Other contenders, such as the Nissan Altima and Dodge Dart, made the car segment especially competitive.
The Fusion and Accord face each other in what many observers regard as the industry’s most-competitive segment – mainstream midsize sedans. The segment accounts for about one in four new vehicles sold in the U.S. Both finalists came to market this fall and feature new powertrain options. Unlike the Accord, the Fusion offers a gasoline-electric hybrid version and, eventually, a plug-in hybrid package. A hybrid Accord is expected for the 2014 model year.
“We’re always pleased when the Accord wins an accolade, but it’s especially gratifying this year as we celebrate 30 years of manufacturing this industry-leading car in America,” Honda said in a statement.
The ATS, launched this year, represents Cadillac’s long-anticipated offering in the entry-level luxury segment where it competes against such cars as the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4 and Lexus IS.
“When you consider the mission — to compete with the best in the world — it makes the acclaim even more meaningful,” said David Caldwell, spokesman for Cadillac. “No American car has seriously entertained this category of sports sedans before.”
The Ram 1500 is the first pickup to be named a finalist in the last two years. The 2013 model incorporates new technologies such as stop-start ignition, an eight-speed transmission and voice-recognition software in what Chrysler calls its Uconnect infotainment system.
“I think the Ram is arriving with great timing, and I think it is going to pay huge dividends for Chrysler, with gains in sales and market share,” Krebs said.
The 2013 Ram 1500 has already been named “Truck of Texas” and Motor Trend Truck of the Year.
“When you combine Ram’s innovative content, capability, value and recognition by the (N.A. Truck of the Year) jurors, you’ve got a powerful force in the marketplace,” Fred Diaz, CEO of the Ram brand, said in a statement.
In recent years, the truck segment has been dominated by SUVs and crossovers built on car frames rather than traditional pickups or SUVs built on truck frames.
The Ford C-Max small van arrived in dealerships only in the last two months, and Ford dealers sold about 4,800 of them in November. In the U.S., the C-Max comes only with a gas-electric hybrid powertrain, and next year, also with a plug-in hybrid powertrain.