A jury of 50 U.S. and Canadian journalists narrowed down an extensive field of new vehicles, with three models named the winners of the North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year awards. At a ceremony in Detroit, the Toyota Prius was named Car of the Year, the Ford Super Duty taking top honors in the truck category. And the Kia EV9 was named Utility Vehicle of the year.
In line with what has now happened for three years running, “electrified” vehicles dominated the discussion as NACTOY jurors narrowed down the field that started out with dozens of contenders. Among the finalists were five all-electric models, as well as two products available in hybrid or plug-in hybrid form. Only two of the finalists were offered exclusively with internal combustion engines.
Going forward, said several members of the NACTOY jury, it will become increasingly rare to see products that don’t at least offer hybrid or all-electric options.
North American Utility Vehicle of the Year
Considering the wide and still growing popularity of utility vehicles, the choices NACTOY jurors had to make in the Utility Vehicle of the Year category underscored the ongoing role of electrified vehicles. As they narrowed down the field, nine of the 10 semi-finalists announced in September were available in hybrid, plug-in or EV form. And two of the three finalists – the Genesis Electric GV70 and the Kia EV9 — were offered exclusively as EVs. The third, the Hyundai Kona is available in either gas or all-electric form.
The winner was the Kia EV9. It marks the third year in a row the Korean carmaker as won North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, with two of those models all-electric. The Kia Telluride won in 2022, with the Kia EV6 taking the honors last year.
“This is a huge affirmation Kia is on the right path to become a sustainable mobility manufacturer,” said Steve Center, Kia’s North American chief operating officer.
North American Car of the Year
NACTOY jurors narrow the potential field of winners through a series of three rounds of voting. And, yet again, EVs, PHEVs and hybrids landed eight of the 10 semi-finalist slots, a list that even included the first-ever hybrid version of the Chevrolet Corvette.
The E-Ray didn’t make the final cut but all three of the finalists offered some form of electrified package: an optional hybrid for the Honda Accord, the all-electric Hyundai Ioniq 6, and the fourth-generation Toyota Prius. The fourth-generation Prius is available as either a hybrid or, in the form of the Prius Prime, a plug-in hybrid.
“We’re excited about the future of hybridization,” said Scott Neiheisel, Toyota’s Midwest general manager. And, apparently, so are U.S. buyers. Hybrid sales outpaced those of all-electric models in 2023, capturing nearly 9% of the overall U.S. new vehicle market.
The win by Prius marked the first time Toyota nabbed a NACTOY trophy in two decades. The last time was for the second-generation Prius.
North American Truck of the Year
Not surprisingly, considering the hefty demands they face, electrified vehicles have played less of the role in the truck category – though they have gained an increasing presence and, in 2023, NACTOY jurors picked the Ford F-150 Lightning as the winner.
This year, just one of the semi-finalists was electrified, and the Chevrolet Silverado EV remained one of the three finalists, along with the gas-powered Chevrolet Colorado. But they both fell to the winning Ford Super Duty.
“It’s really the essence of ‘built Ford tough,’ for both work and for play,” said Super Duty Chief Program Engineer Andrew Kernahan. Even then, he noted that, “there is space for all sorts of different powertrains (in the truck world) from diesel to electric.”
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A big anniversary
This marks the 30th anniversary for NACTOY, widely considered one of the most significant among automotive awards programs in North America. Winners routinely highlight their victories in everything from press releases to Super Bowl ads.
In its early years, jurors handed out awards for the best car and truck models. In 2017, the third, Utility Vehicle of the Year, category was added, reflecting the growing popularity of both conventional SUVs and more car-like crossover-utility vehicles.
As they have from the start, the 50 journalist members of the NACTOY jury are charged with test-driving every new vehicle available in the U.S. and Canadian markets. They consider factors such as design, performance, price, significance to the market, and quality. Three rounds of voting result in the winners announced each January.
Editor’s Note: Paul A. Eisenstein is a longtime member of the NACTOY jury.