“________________ Vehicle of the Year”: The Value of its Worth

VOY leadEvery month headlines scream some vehicle or another has been bestowed the honor of being named this or that “Vehicle of the Year” (VOY) by some blog, website, publication or media outlet.

If the entity doing the bestowing is considered of great enough importance, the vehicle manufacturer crowned such honor touts said VOY in its advertising, doubling-down on the prestige.

But is it really prestigious?

That’s a question you should ask yourself if such grandiose awards have any impact on your vehicle buying decisions.

VOYs come in many colors: Some platinum. Some gold. Some bronze. Some green.

It’s the latter two I see more and more, and as an automotive journalist who values a balance of both analytical and personal observations in comparisons, that’s always been disconcerting.

Over the three decades I’ve been an automotive editor and journalist I’ve seen VOYs bestowed on vehicles based solely on which manufacturer signed the biggest annual ad contract with a media outlet, not on anything the editors did on a true comparative basis. (This happens more than you might imagine.)

In a similar manner, some VOY honors are the result of journalists “testing” a mix-mash of vehicles that aren’t really comparable, then voting on which one is the “best” without spending more than a few minutes in each one, and with no data being gathered as to actual vehicle performance other than price and EPA numbers.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve participated in VOY comparisons where seasoned automotive journalists spent an entire week driving multiple vehicles over the same roads, taking meticulous notes, and subjecting the contenders to repeatable and verifiable testing before tallying up the score.

It’s the latter I consider diamond-encrusted Platinum VOY crowns that have meaningful bearing on which vehicle in a certain type and style is deemed better than all others it competed against.

During the last six months I’ve taken part in the voting towards two VOYs that included pickups that spanned this gamut of VOY crowns.

One pitted a mixed bag of V6/V8, gas/diesel, half-ton and midsize models for an annual VOY title. When the smoke cleared the voting by more than a dozen journalists was based on each spending less time in a vehicle than the normal person would taking a very quick around-the-block test drive at a dealer. No data was gathered other than what was on the window sticker.

It was my first time as a participant in the event (and my last, by the way) with no idea how the VOY was going to be conducted. Now I know.

In stark contrast, I spent a week earlier in the year as a VOY voter on a another pickup comparison. But these trucks had been carefully selected so all were of like configuration. Apples-to-apples.

This group subjected the trucks to a full day of track testing with all aspects of the data logged. That was followed by three full days of driving several hundred miles in each truck, both on and off-pavement. We spent several hours towing identical trailers with the trucks, swapping from one truck to the other to drive over the same sections of highway.

At the end of the week our driving impressions and fuel data were logged, we talked about the pros and cons of each vehicle, then cast our individual votes.

Good seat time. Solid comparison. VOY honor well-deserved for the eventual winner.

Car of the Year. Pickup of the Year. SUV of the Year. Whatever the “______of the Year” honor it is, read the fine print. Pay special attention to who did the voting; what were the deciding factors; and exactly how much actual testing was done.

If there’s little or no definitive explanation to the scoring/voting other than the ubiquitous “our esteemed editors’ picked their favorites and XYZ’s MumblyPeg deserved the title,” take it for what it is: a crown made out of nothing more than advertising dollars and/or best guesses.

That’s not something I’d want to have any sway on a new vehicle buying decision.