By Paul Williams
The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) recently held its Canadian Car of the Year awards testing, with journalists from around the country evaluating all-new vehicles for the 2013 model year. Winners of the 11 vehicle categories were announced at the end of October with the overall Car of the Year and Utility Vehicle of the Year to be announced in February, 2013.
But there are many awards programs, with just about every automobile publication, website, blog, and group handing out trophies and plaques of this type or that each model year. Consumers are right to ask why the AJAC awards should carry more or less weight, and indeed why AJAC itself should have more stature among the array of media outlets and individuals commenting on cars.
First of all, AJAC isn’t a media outlet. As a non-profit, incorporated professional organization, AJAC represents almost 150 journalist members and 35 corporate members. Annual fees from both groups fund its break-even operation, which includes costs associated with Canadian Car of the Year testing. Of course, AJAC is legally bound by stringent reporting procedures common to all incorporated associations, which ensure that all money raised by the association is used appropriately. Additionally, AJAC has a statement of ethics built into its constitution that prevents members from personally benefitting from positive vehicle reviews or passing off advertising as editorial. All of its members have been vetted to confirm their expertise and their affiliation with reputable media outlets, and, in the case of the Canadian Car of the Year, they go through a two-year probationary period before their evaluations can be fully included in the final results.
In other words, it’s not about the individual testers, or the media outlets for whom they write. In the case of AJAC’s Canadian Car of the Year awards, it’s about the vehicles, and the consumers who buy them.
As you might have surmised, Canadian Car of the Year testing isn’t simply a list of personal favourites, nor does it rank vehicles based on short drives or press introductions held throughout the year. As pointed out above, many magazines, TV shows, websites and individuals annually pick what they consider to be the best vehicles, but in contrast, AJAC’s Canadian Car of the Year is built upon a comprehensive and standardized set of objective and subjective parameters, each of which is carefully weighted (having good brakes gets a higher proportion of points than having a good audio system).
Scores are determined over a full week of testing and evaluation during which each vehicle is driven back-to-back on the same day, in the same conditions and on the same roads. It’s a process honed over 29 years of testing, and it has evolved into arguably the most sophisticated and credible journalist-run awards program in the world.