The Secret Behind How the Car And Truck of the Year Are Chosen

Car, Truck of the Year unveiled annually at Detroit auto show.

BySusanna Kim
January 12, 2015, 1:02 PM

— -- Beside the glitz and shiny toys, one of the Detroit auto show's biggest moments today is an annual award actually has nothing to do with the gathering besides being presented there.

The North American Car and Truck of the Year are chosen by a select group of automotive journalists from the U.S. and Canada, not by the organizers of the North American International Auto Show, which takes place in Detroit each January.

"It’s nice they give us the first spot of the show," said Christopher Jensen, one of the journalists who started the award 22 years ago. "The auto show has no involvement as far as what we have done or how the awards are won."

Jensen, who started the organization in 1991, said the group tries to be as transparent as possible about the annual award. This year, the Volkswagen Golf and Ford F-150 were selected in the award's 22nd year.

Receiving the award is a big honor for car manufacturers, which almost immediately begin advertising it in commercials. The Volkswagen Golf also was named as Motor Trend's car of the year, a win the company already is touting in ads on NFL broadcasts.

Jensen's group doesn't get paid for the commercial use of the honor they've bestowed.

The 57 journalists completed ballots to auditing and consulting firm Deloitte and Touche. Until the news conference at the auto show today, only a partner at Deloitte Michelle Collins knew which vehicles won.

While 57 may sound like a small number of people to pick a major award, Jensen pointed out that magazines like Motor Trend often rely on a smaller editorial board with even fewer people.

"There are not that many automotive journalists in North America," Jensen said. "We think 57 is a good sampling."

A freelance journalist based in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, Jensen was inspired by Europe's "Car of the Year" award when he started the North American equivalent.

To vote, jurors distribute 25 points among the vehicles. No more than 10 points may be given to a single vehicle and that may be done for only one truck and one car. Then, the jurors vote on the three finalists for the truck and car categories.

The 57 jurors were selected by a rotating seven-person organizing committee, of which Jensen and another co-founder are permanent members.

"In theory, everyone will be on the organizing committee," he said.

Nobody is paid to be on the committee. In fact, the jurors chip in $150 in annual dues to defray costs like renting space to test the cars in October.

"No one has a salary or gets reimbursed for expenses. We buy a pair of trophies and put out press releases."

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