If you thought AJAC’s annual Canadian Car of the Year (CCOTY) TestFest was just a bunch of car-crazy automotive writers flinging new cars and SUVs around a handling course and then voting for the ones they liked the best, you’d be partly right—but mostly wrong.  AJAC’s CCOTY scoring system is probably the most advanced and sophisticated vehicle awards voting system in the world—a system that has been continually refined over the 24 years that the awards have been given out.

It starts with qualified automotive writers who belong to the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), the largest and most respected association of automotive writers in Canada.  Only those journalists who regularly publish new car reviews and test drive a minimum of two cars per month are qualified to vote. This year, approximately 80 journalists from across the country attended the annual CCOTY TestFest in Niagara, Ontario to drive, evaluate, and vote on over 60 new 2013 model year vehicles. Each journalist is assigned to two or three vehicle categories and must spend a minimum of 30 minutes driving each car on public roads with the option of driving on a handling course where appropriate (ie. sports and performance cars).  Journalists must drive all the cars in each category in a single day in order to compare them back to back.  Over the five days of testing, a typical journalist drives between 20 and 40 different cars.

The voting ballot for each car comprises 21 different evaluation parameters—such as Driver Position & Ergonomics, Engine Smoothness/Refinement and Ride Comfort—and voting journalists must give each a rating between 1 and 10.  To help them compare cars, journalists have access to independent performance data compiled by AJAC test drivers just before TestFest, as well as a full specifications sheet for each vehicle.

Testing begins on Monday, and after two and a half days of testing, journalists’ ballots are tallied by independent auditors, KPMG, who keep the results secret until the category winners are announced on Thursday evening. On Friday, journalists must then drive all the winners they haven’t already driven, and rate them all on a separate ballot using six different evaluation parameters:  Merit, Value, Environment, Safety, Market Significance, and Emotional Appeal.  The top three finalists will be announced on January 25, 2013, and the Canadian Car of the Year and Utility Vehicle of the Year will be announced at a special awards presentation during the Canadian International Auto Show on February 14, 2013.

But wait, there’s more!

To compensate for the wide variation in vehicle prices even within categories, the AJAC Car of the Year committee developed a Price Factor that basically gives more points to cheaper cars and fewer points to expensive cars by applying a percentage factor to the vehicle’s prices. For example, the price factor for a $20,000 car is 0.935 while the factor for a $50,000 car is 0.865.  If these two cars were in the same category, the price factor would increase the final score for the $20,000 car by 7.99%.   The full Price Factor table can be viewed on AJAC’s website.

In addition to this, AJAC’s Car of the Year committee developed a comprehensive Weighting Factors table that adjusts scores based on the premise that the importance of vehicle characteristics varies depending on the type of vehicle.  For example, fuel economy is more important in a city car or economy car than in a luxury car, and acceleration is more important in a sports car than in a minivan.  As an example, in this year’s Small Car Under $21K category, the weighting factor applied to each Fuel/Energy Consumption score was 11 percent while in the Sports/Performance Car under $50K category, the weighting factor applied to the Fuel/Energy Consumption score was 4 percent.

With so many cars and so many journalists involved in the Canadian Car of the Year TestFest, it’s a wonder that it all works so smoothly. Most of the credit must go the volunteer efforts of the AJAC Canadian Car of the Year committee, whose members have dedicated many years to improving and upgrading the scoring system. Also deserving generous credit are eager volunteer students from Georgian College who keep track of all the car keys using a sophisticated electronic barcode system. And finally, there’s AJAC’s talented IT mastermind, Ryan Blair, who keeps the computerized vehicle tracking system and voting system running smoothly.

If you know of another vehicle awards program that is more comprehensive than this, we’d like to know about it!

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