Corvette, Telluride and Gladiator take NACTOY honors
Detroit — The Chevrolet Corvette, Kia Telluride and Jeep Gladiator took home top honors in the 2020 North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year awards on Monday. The prizes are popularly known as the auto industry's Oscar awards.
The Corvette Stingray C8 accelerated past the Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Supra for best car. The $60,000 Chevy icon is the first 'Vette to put the engine behind the driver. At just a third the cost of mid-engine Italian supercars, the Corvette puts up similar performance numbers, including a sub 3-second 0-60 mph time.
The highly anticipated sports car took a rollercoaster journey to market, originally getting approval before the Great Recession of 2008 threw GM into bankruptcy.
"Winning (this award) is important and a powerful validation for what we've been doing," Corvette executive chief engineer Tadge Juechter said as he held up the trophy. "Our team has poured their passion into this car."
Delayed in coming to dealer lots by the 40-day UAW strike, the Corvette is expected to start production in February. Juechter said the company is getting ready to add a second shift at its plant to meet the demand for the C8.
So intense was competition for Car of the Year that icons like the BMW 3-series and Porsche 911 did not make the finalist list. Other notables left out in the cold were the Ford Mustang GT500, the most powerful Mustang ever, and the Mazda 3, an elegant and affordable compact car.
The Telluride edged the Hyundai Palisade and Lincoln Navigator for top SUV. The affordable Telluride's suite of standard features and bold good looks wowed jurors as it has wowed consumers.
It was Kia's first NACTOY win as the Korean brand has made a major move in the U.S. market with a fleet of stylish sedans and SUVs. The brand rode the popular Telluride to the biggest sales growth of any non-luxury brand in 2019. Kia nearly won NACTOY in 2018 with the Kia Stinger four-door sports sedan.
"This is a true accolade anyone would be proud to receive," said an ecstatic Michael Cole, Kia North America president. "Since launching in a Super Bowl ad last year, demand has continued to outstrip supply. We got close with Stinger, but the Telluride is appropriate because it is designed and assembled in the U.S."
The SUV showdown was NACTOY's most intense as manufacturers continue to feed consumers' insatiable appetite for all things ute. Entrants included such heralded German rookies as the Audi E-Tron — the brand’s first electric SUV — and the hulking three-row BMW X7. GM hopefuls included the return of the Chevrolet Blazer as a fashionable crossover, and Cadillac’s first three-row SUV not named Escalade, the XT6.
In the end, however, jurors found the Korean twins, Palisade and Telluride, and the stylish Aviator to be the most notable.
The truck category was an all-American affair with the Gladiator beating the Ford Ranger and Ram Heavy Duty.
Its rugged Wrangler-like qualities married to a useful pickup bed proved irresistible to jurors. Available only in all-wheel drive, the Gladiator starts in the mid-$30,000 price range.
“What’s not to like about a pickup truck with not only a soft-top removable roof but even removable doors?” said veteran NACTOY juror John Voelcker.
U.S. automakers usually dominate the truck category, and 2020 was no different. The Ram Heavy Duty was hoping to join its sibling Ram 1500 light-duty truck in the winners' circle after the 1500 won NACTOY a year ago. The Ranger and Gladiator were evidence of the resurgence of the mid-size pickup market once left for dead. The Ranger had actually left the market in 2012, only to return this year, while the Gladiator is Jeep’s first pickup since the Comanche in 1992.
The awards were presented on stage at the TCF Center (formerly Cobo) in Detroit in partnership with the Detroit Auto Dealers Association and the North American International Auto Show. The NACTOY awards have in years past kicked off the North American International Auto Show – but the show has been moved to June this year for the first time.
The winners were the cream of a crop of 46 eligible nameplates this year. All vehicles are new to the market for the 2020 model year.
The list was winnowed to a field of semi-finalists in October: five trucks and 12 vehicles in the car and sport utility categories. Jurors then convened in Ann Arbor for an intensive week of testing and comparison to nominate the nine finalists — three in each category.
Considered the industry’s most prestigious independent award, NACTOY is presented by a jury of 50 journalists from print, online, radio and broadcast media across the U.S. and Canada, including the author of this article.
Car of the Year: Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
Other nominees: Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Supra
SUV of the Year: Kia Telluride
Other nominees: Hyundai Palisade, Lincoln Aviator
Truck of the Year: Jeep Gladiator
Other nominees: Ford Ranger, Ram Heavy Duty
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.