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Ford, Fiat Chrysler lead NACTOY Vehicle of the Year finalists

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Finalists for 2021 North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year Awards were announced Thursday, with Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles scoring two contenders each.

Ford’s all-new Ford F-150 pickup is a finalist for Truck of the Year, with Ford's first all-electric crossover – the Mach-E – picked as a finalist SUV of the Year. FCA’s Jeep Gladiator Mojave and Hellcat-Ram 1500 TRX are in the running for Truck of the Year. General Motors products were shut out.

Ford Mustang Mach-E

Reflecting trends in the industry, Asian makers dominated the car category, Detroit automakers swept all three truck finalists, and the three SUV finalists were all premium-priced vehicles at a time when the average price of a new vehicle is pushing $40,000.

The F-150, perennially the best-selling pickup in the US, will be the odds-on favorite to win best truck with a comprehensive 2021 redesign that includes the truck’s first hybrid model. Its competitors are the off-road capable Jeep Gladiator Mojave midsize truck, and the first 700-plus horsepower pickup, the ferocious Ram 1500 TRX (pronounced T. rex).

Ram 1500 TRX

Ford is also the front-runner to win Utility of the Year with its Tesla Model Y-fighting Mustang Mach-E. The $44,000 electric SUV is the first time that Ford has expanded Mustang into a sub-brand offering models beyond its core muscle cars. The elegant $50,000 Genesis GV80 will be a close contender as Hyundai’s value luxury brand makes its first foray into SUVs. The iconic $47,000 Land Rover Defender is the Jeep Wrangler of the luxury set. The first Defender to hit US shores in 40 years, it stars in the forthcoming James Bond flick, “No Time to Die.”

The finalists emerged from an intensely competitive field including GM’s lineup of popular SUVs — the Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban and Chevrolet Trailblazer. Other wannabes included the Nissan Rogue, Ford Bronco Sport, Hyundai Santa Fe and Mazda CX-30.

Jeep Gladiator Mojave

Detroit automakers have put all their chips on SUVs and trucks, leaving the sedan field to Japanese carmakers.

The affordable Nissan Sentra and Hyundai Elantra will the favorites against the luxurious Genesis G80, the sister sedan to its GV80 ute. The affordable Sentra is a prime example of the democratization of autos with the $25,000 compact offering standard features like adaptive cruise-control, leather interior, sunroof and Apple CarPlay connectivity not found on luxury vehicles twice its price.  Yet, the Elantra may have the upper hand in the voting race as it offers a vast lineup including a hybrid and N-line sport nodel.

The trio beat out a field of formidable group 2021 contenders, including the Polestar 2 – the car from Volvo’s EV brand – the Kia K5  and industry heavies like the Acura TLX and Cadillac CT4.

Ford F-150

“In this very challenging year, these nine vehicles emerged as our Finalists out of an unusually strong field of 27 Semifinalists,” said NACTOY president Gary Witzenburg. “Each one of them – especially the 15 in the ultra-competitive utility vehicle category – is excellent in nearly every way.”

NACTOY is the most prestigious independent prize awarded in North America with a jury of over 50 auto journalists. Final voting is early next year, and the winners will be announced in Detroit on Jan. 11.

2021 NACTOY finalists

Car of the Year

Genesis G80

Hyundai Elantra

Nissan Sentra

Truck of the Year

Ford F-150

Jeep Gladiator Mojave

Ram 1500 TRX

Utility Vehicle of the Year

Ford Mustang Mach-E

Genesis GV80

Land Rover Defender

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.