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Motor Bella: Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year semifinalists announced

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Pontiac — A sprawling buffet of 23 new vehicles will compete for the 2022 North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year.

Gary Witzenburg, president of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards, announces the semi-finalists during a press conference at Motor Bella, inside the M1 Concourse, in Pontiac, September 21, 2021.

NACTOY opened the Motor Bella auto show Tuesday with its semi-finalist list. The list boasts everything from snarling trucks to whip-quick sedans to electric vehicles. Jurors whittled an initial list of 36 eligible cars, trucks and utility vehicles to choose the semifinalists.

“This year’s group of semifinalists includes some of the most interesting and innovative cars, trucks and utility vehicle candidates in recent memory, and a larger number of new trucks than we’ve seen in many years,” said NACTOY President Gary Witzenburg,  “And it features more electric vehicles than we’ve ever seen.”

The semifinalists track trends in the industry as consumers have switched from cars to SUVs and embraced the off-road lifestyle. Following the success of Tesla, manufacturers are also flooding the market with new, performance-oriented EVs.

EV nominees are most prevalent in the truck category where a variety of manufacturers see an opportunity to use electric motors’ torque for hauling and speed. Startup Rivian R1T and the GMC Hummer made the semis with expensive Vs boasting impressive acceleration numbers. But the votes here are likely to come from more mainstream brands like Toyota (its substantially reworked Tundra) and Ford (its first unibody small pickup Maverick). The Hyundai Santa Cruz will also turn heads with its innovative, SUV-based platform.

SUVs are America’s choice of daily rider and nine will vie for the 2022 title. SUVs now take 70% of the market versus 30% for cars.

The Ford Bronco is the favorite here with its long-awaited Wrangler fighter. Jeep icons Grand Cherokee — now with its first three-row model, the L — and Grand Wagoneer will be strong contenders as well. Hyundai waves the flag with three strong entries — the Ioniq EV, Tucson, and luxury Genesis GV70.

Cars have fallen out of favor in the American market, but manufacturers have stepped up with style and performance to keep them relevant. Favorite Honda Civic is stuffed with interior technology that is the envy of many luxury cars. The ground-pawing Cadillac Blackwing will be a sentimental favorite as Cadillac's last V-8-powered car as the brand goes all-EV. The Lucid Air and Mercedes EQS are two of the prettiest electric cars in the market.

The all new 2022 Toyota Tundra is on display at Motor Bella in Pontiac.

Judged by a panel of 50 independent journalists from the United States and Canada, the NACTOY awards are among North America’s most prestigious prizes. Jurors will convene in Ann Arbor in October for a comparison drive of semi-finalists.  Finalists will be announced in November and winners crowned in January 2022.

Here are the nominees:

Car of the Year

Audi A3

Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing

Genesis G70

Honda Civic

Lucid Air

Mercedes EQS EV

Mercedes S-class

VW Golf R/GTI

Truck of the Year

Ford Maverick

GMC Hummer EV

Hyundai Santa Cruz

Nissan Frontier

Rivian R1T

Toyota Tundra

SUV of the Year

Ford Bronco

Genesis GV70

Hyundai Ioniq 5

Hyundai Tucson

Jeep Grand Cherokee

Jeep Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer

Kia Carnival

Nissan Pathfinder

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