Aerial view of the Testfest site, at the Niagara District Airport
Aerial view of the Testfest site, at the Niagara District Airport; photo courtesy AJAC/Arne Glassbourg. Click image to enlarge

By Paul Williams, CCOTY Chairman

Reader poll: Predict the results!

On December 4th, 2007, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) will announce its category winners for the 2008 Canadian Car of the Year awards. This year, 59 vehicles were entered by manufacturers in 12 categories, and journalists from across the country spent a busy late-October week in Niagara testing them all.

To give you some idea of the scale of this annual “Testfest” event, picture 177 vehicles (three examples of each entry) arranged by category, 70-plus journalists, another 100-or-so manufacturer executives, a giant tent containing a cafeteria, key stations, technical centre, lounge, registration desk and displays. Beyond the tent and vehicles is a five-kilometer test track, purpose designed to emphasize handling, braking and acceleration characteristics. Nine drive routes of approximately 20 kilometers each surround the test centre, and a rugged off-road course challenges the SUVs and Pickup Trucks.

In order to better understand the program, it’s important to know that the AJAC awards focus on vehicles that are new to the Canadian market each year. For example, the all-new 2008 Honda Accord is eligible this year, while the 2008 Toyota Camry is not (the Camry was all-new in 2007, and was entered then). Typically, manufacturers introduce “all new” versions of existing models every four years, and in addition there is a constant parade of completely new vehicles to our market, like the 2008 Infiniti EX and Saturn Astra.

Testfest venue entrance
Testfest venue entrance; photo by Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

Unlike other “car of the year” awards, the AJAC program is an exercise in thoroughness and credibility. Refined over its 20-year history, this is not simply a popularity contest. Each vehicle is driven back-to-back on the same day, and on the same roads, with others in its category, and all the vehicles are separately performance tested for acceleration (0-100 km/h; 80-120 km/h) and braking (100-0 km/h). They are also objectively scored on emissions, safety features, cargo and passenger volume, and fuel economy.

In addition, vehicles are scored from 0-10 over 17 key subjective parameters (ease of entry, visibility, styling, throttle response, ride comfort, braking feel and effectiveness, engine smoothness, etc.).

The objective data, in combination with the subjective scores, are tabulated by accounting firm KPMG to generate winners in each category. It’s from those winners that the overall Canadian Car of the Year and Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year will be selected in February 2008.

Niagara District Airport
Niagara District Airport; photo by Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

It’s a lot of work; interesting work and enjoyable, too. But work, nonetheless.

Such attention to detail and standardized testing offer real benefits for consumers, with three AJAC surveys confirming that consumers are significantly influenced by a Canadian Car of the Year award win. In 1999, the influence on buyers was 45 per cent; in 2002, that percentage rose to 47.5 per cent, while in 2005, a Canadian Car of the Year award influenced 58.4 per cent of consumers.

But, apart from all the science and rigorous methodology, it’s always fun to consider which vehicle will win its category. Individual journalists have some idea of this after driving all the vehicles in a given class, but their opinion may not be shared or supported by the overall data. It’s certainly not easy to predict, especially because all the new, especially in 2008, were very strong contenders.

Competitors in the Small Car category
Competitors in the Small Car category; photo by Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

Likewise, readers may wish to speculate on the outcome of each category, and predict how the journalists will vote. Even though readers will not have seen — and definitely won’t have driven the subject vehicles back-to-back — it’s still interesting to predict what the experts will ultimately say.

If you’d like to have a go at predicting this year’s outcome, Autos has developed some online polls to do just that. Give it a try!

Category winners will be announced December 4, 2008. Be sure to check Autos, and see how close you came to predicting this year’s category winners for the 2008 Canadian Car of the Year.

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