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Car of the Year Jury

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

Jack Nerad has spent decades in the automotive industry as a journalist, author, and communicator. His past positions include Editor of Motor Trend magazine, the Editor of Automotive Age, and the Director of Publications at J.D. Power and Associates. In addition to writing countless articles, features, and road tests, he has authored several books over the years, including his newly published book, The GR Factor. Jack also hosts his own podcast, America on the Road.

Matt DeLorenzo is an author specializing in writing car reviews, news, and car buying advice. With over 40 years of experience as an automotive journalist, he has worked as a Senior Editor at Automotive News, Autoweek, and Road & Track. A founding organizer and member of the North American Car of the Year Jury, DeLorenzo has also authorized seven books on models ranging from Corvette to Dodge, and an overview of legendary American automobiles.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • How and why NACTOY was founded and how its jury has evolved over the years

  • How Jack Nerad joined the NACTOY jury and his current line of work

  • Matt DeLorenzo talks about the secret ballot voting style at NACTOY and their collaboration with the North American International Auto Show

  • How the NACTOY award influences consumers, dealers, and sales volume and how the vehicles are judged

  • Jack and Matt talk about the NACTOY 2021 winners and how the testing of vehicles has been impacted by COVID-19

  • Will the 2021 award have an impact on compact cars?

  • Do safety features influence a car’s success?

  • Ford Mustang Mach-E: the NACTOY utility vehicle winner of 2021

  • The future of the electric car market

In this episode…

Have you ever wondered how vehicles in an auto show are judged? Ever wondered how winning such an award impacts car dealers, manufacturers—and sales volume?

Jack Nerad and Matt DeLorenzo are jurors at the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year Awards (NACTOY) and know exactly what to look out for when judging vehicles. They test the vehicles, write articles and reviews about them, and know which features are important in cars.

In this week's episode of the Inside Auto Podcast, Ilana Shabtay sits down with automotive journalists Jack Nerad and Matt DeLorenzo to talk about working for the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year Awards (NACTOY) and serving in its jury. Jack and Matt talk about the history of the organization, how they judge vehicles, and what makes the 2021 award-winning vehicles great cars.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:03

Welcome to Inside Auto Podcast where we feature everyone and anyone you'd want to talk to in and out of the automotive industry.

Ilana Shabtay 0:14

Ilana Shabtay Inside Auto Podcast where we interview top dealers, gems, marketers, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in and out of the automotive industry. And before we introduce today's guest, this episode is sponsored by Auto The auto leads platform is built on a technology so powerful that it allows you to market, sell and service cars as you would in the real world at scale and online, making one to one matches between shoppers and inventory. autosar is the only platform that is powered by scale speed and specificity to change the way dealers do marketing. I'm so excited to welcome back our now frequent guest Jack Nerad, as well as Matt DeLorenzo, both automotive journalists on the North American car jury of the end of the year Car of the Year jury and this is why I'm going to start calling it next toys but I don't have to get all jumbled up but the North American automotive Car of the Year jury nactoy a very unique award actually because instead of it being given by a single publication or a single magazine, it's actually made up an independent jury of automotive journalists from the United States and Canada. Each year the unbiased jury of approximately 50 experts print and broadcast journalists combined centuries of experience to determine the winners of the North American car, truck and utility vehicle of the year. So before we get into what that means, and the history of it, and what the 2021 winners were, we'll quickly do an intro of our honored guests today. For those of you who've listened before you already know Jack. Jack Nerad has spent decades in the automotive industry as a journalist, author and communicator. Past positions held by Jack include editor at Motor Trend magazine, editor at automotive age and director of publications at JD Power and Associates. In addition to writing countless articles, features and road tests. He's authored several books over the years including his newly published book, the GR Factor. Jack also hosts his own podcast, America on the Road. Welcome back, Jack. So good to have you.

Jack R. Nerad 2:20

So good to be with you again. I really appreciate it. Thanks for having me back.

Ilana Shabtay 2:24

Of course, I'm excited to get started but before we do, I'd like to introduce Matt DeLorenzo, who's an author specializing in writing car reviews, news and car buying advice. With over 40 years of experience as an automotive journalist. He's worked as a senior editor at automotive news auto week, and rolling track, a founding organizer and member of the North American car of the year, Jury. De Lorenzo was also authorized seven books on models ranging from Corvette to Dodge and an overview of legendary American automobiles such an honor. Welcome, Matt.

Matt DeLorenzo 2:58

Thanks. It's great to be here, Ilana.

Ilana Shabtay 3:00

I'm so excited to have you both. Before we jump into the winners, let's talk about nactoy. How is it founded? How'd you get started? Matt, let's start with you.

Matt DeLorenzo 3:10

It was founded back in 1993. We gave our first award in 94. And it was an association of independent journalists. We modeled ourselves after the European Car of the Year awards. We thought it was time to give a similar award in North America. And at the time, we just did cars and trucks. And they were vehicles that were on sale in North America. The European car the vehicle actually had to be produced there and for sale there. So we opened it up to both import and domestic vehicles. And it was quite successful. We've been around for a long time. And it's I think that's a great award because it does have the input of a lot of different voices as opposed to one editorial statement from a single publication.

Ilana Shabtay 4:03

And so when you started did you start with the 50 jurors, or have you collected them over time?

Matt DeLorenzo 4:09

The jury is varied. I think our first jury was somewhere in the neighborhood of about 4035 to 40 journalists, it's grown, it's gone over 50 but in recent years, we've kept it down to about 5050 jurors, and it initially started out with just cars and trucks. So our first winners were actually a C class Mercedes and the 1994 Dodge Ram pickup. And we've since added the utility category that represents a shift away from traditional cars into these crossovers and SUVs. So what we try to do is, is represent the full spectrum of vehicles that are available to the buyers in North America.

Ilana Shabtay 4:59

That's great. Did you get involved right in the start in 93?

Jack R. Nerad 5:03

No, I didn't, I wasn't cool enough to get involved early. I think I might have been actually working for a car company at that time. Oh, yeah, or JD Power, went back to journalism in the early 2000s, and joined the jury, I think around 2007 or eight in that vicinity. Matt was instrumental in helping me get on the jury. So I appreciate that. And, you know, it's always good to look up to somebody and I look up to Matt. So

Matt DeLorenzo 5:33

We look up to each other. You know, when you said both of us about 40 years, I mean, we go way back to freelancing days. And actually, I was doing some freelancing for auto aides when Jack was there. So we've both had a long, long time, other side of the desk of each other quite a bit. Right.

Ilana Shabtay 5:54

That's great. Well, I'm, I'm so glad to have you both here today. So who was the winner in your first year? Jack?

Jack R. Nerad 6:02

You know, I don't know, I can't remember to tell you the truth. And don't don't ask me to go too far back in terms of the name of the winners, because I can't do it. But I can't I can't tell you that winters to the last years, a couple of years, as I've, and most recently, I am a member of the board, as Matt was previously to me. And I'm proud to be vice president of the organization right now. So I'm a little more involved in the running of the organization beyond just voting for the various vehicles.

Ilana Shabtay 6:36

We'll see. Now you're extra cool. If you weren't as you know, you're on the board. It's like the coolest you can be. So congratulations on that. And before we get into the 2021 winners. I know you mentioned that you so you for this board work. This jury works with any manufacturer, as opposed to the European jury, which is only European manufacturers. Did I hear that correctly?

Matt DeLorenzo 7:01

Right. Right. The other interesting thing about the award is that it's a secret ballot, it's one of those things that nobody knows until the envelope is open, which vehicle has one. So I think that that's another defining characteristic, you know, most of the other awards that are given out, they know the manufacturer knows they're gonna get it, they gear up the machine. So there's actually really not a lot of suspense over the naming of, of a car the year by a particular publication. This one has more air of mystery and excitement and that to it. And, you know, we were fortunate to be able to partner with the Detroit Auto Show, they call themselves the North American International Auto Show, which caused a little bit of confusion. But we are separate entities. But they were gracious enough to give us the opening slot of their press days at the Detroit shows. So that became a real signature. One of the things that the industry looked forward to there was a huge excitement. It was carried live on television, a lot of industry executives, and the fact that we would have, in the early days, six finalists, and then up to nine finalists to announce when we added the third award, it was quite a quite a press conference, it was that generally an exciting way to kick off an auto show,

Jack R. Nerad 8:32

right. And it really kind of is like Oscar night, and we have continued that association with the North American International Auto Show, even though they have moved their Auto Show. And of course, with COVID-19, they haven't been able to conduct an auto show for quite some time. But when we made the awards this January of this past month, it was in conjunction with the North American International Auto Show, and it was still a live event still one of those things where we didn't know who was going to win. And you know, I'm opening up the envelope and trying to see the name on there and then read it off. Right. So I don't have a Steve Harvey moment. And it works out well. And I think as Matt says, it's exciting that way. Because we don't know, we the board members don't know we the jurors don't know, you know when they're going to be named. Yeah.

Ilana Shabtay 9:22

That's, that's wonderful. And what do you think about it? And I don't know if you actually have real numbers on this, but how does it affect sales volume? Or how I would say like, split it into two, how does it affect consumers? Or how do you think it influences consumers? And if you have the data on sales, like I'd love to talk about that, and then how do you think it influences OEMs and dealers?

Jack R. Nerad 9:46

Well, I'll get on that. I mean, the, it's, it's obvious that it has an effect. And I think the fact that we're 50 independent journalists, it's not a magazine giving an award and I was intimately involved in the voter Trend Car of the Year award. So I'm, I'm not knocking them. But it's not one organization with maybe an ulterior motive giving an award. It is a combination of, you know, esteemed journalists from both Canada and the United States giving an award. And I think consumers respect that and pay attention to it. And, you know, Matt, you probably want to talk about, you know, how it, how it affects the OEMs and, and how the award is used?

Matt DeLorenzo 10:29

Well, I think it's important because there's so much, there's so many competitors out there. And the market, a lot of there's a lot of really good vehicles on the market today, there are truly Well, there may be a couple, but there are truly no bad cars for sale. These days, the quality has made tremendous strides there, they're backed by really long warranties. So it's difficult to stand out in the crowd. And I think the manufacturers look for accolades like these to distinguish themselves from the competition. And there's only one North American car truck or utility of the year. So I think it's a very coveted award. And as Jack pointed out, the fact that it comes from a jury of about 50, independent journalists carries that much more weight. Now, the way that we suppose, or judge the vehicles is that we don't take all the new vehicles and compare them to each other, like all the new 2020 ones, didn't compete against each other, we take those vehicles and compare them to their class of vehicles. So you know, in the, let's say, in the truck realm, it's a pickup truck, we compare the full size pickups against its full size competition, not a full size pickup against a mid size. Same thing with cars. Same thing with the utilities. And what we look for are the types of technologies and features that have a lot of meaning to consumers, safety features, convenience features, the latest in technology in terms of wireless connectivity, that sort of thing. So it really is an award that's uniquely tailored to the vehicle as it competes in the marketplace.

Ilana Shabtay 12:26

Interesting. Okay, great. So let's talk about the 2021 winners. You guys can decide who gets to do the honors, I'm just kidding. Everyone can go first.

Matt DeLorenzo 12:37

Okay, I will tell you.

Ilana Shabtay 12:41

Okay, pretend it's my first time we're finding out.

Matt DeLorenzo 12:44

Actually, we do have an independent accounting firm Deloitte has been with us since the beginning. They actually do the tabulation, they keep the results secret. So it really is aboveboard in terms of, you know, the accounting and secrecy and all that. And that's one thing from the beginning that we've insisted upon.

Jack R. Nerad 13:08

I mean, we get a sealed envelope from Deloitte. And there I am, on camera struggling to open, that's the Bible open. And I actually won the trek award this year. So I was, I was quite, you know, honored to be able to do that. The North American Truck of the Year is the Ford F 150. Their whole line of trucks is all new for this year. And, you know, to Matt's point, a lot of consumer friendly features in it. I think one of the features that I really love is the hybrid version of the F 150. Which gives the consumer great range. You can drive a long, long time I think something like 600 miles on a tank full. When you're driving it also gives you almost immediate torque. So it's a very responsive vehicle as well. So great fuel economy, yet it feels very peppy. And others in the f150 Ranger also, I think really excellent values, they sorted out things like putting a little writing desk between the two seats that folds out those kinds of little touches. And the power onboard feature I think is really cool where it can be used, essentially as if you had a generator, it can power power tools or a campsite or a kind of a nice tailgate party if you wanted to do that. So a lot of consumer friendly features I think in the Ford F 150. And you know, very justifiably I think the North American Truck of the Year for this year,

Ilana Shabtay 14:41

and I know that this probably and you can correct me if I'm wrong, but this doesn't influence the winners but we were on our previous podcast that Jack and I did with Steven Guevara from zaap Ford which is in Detroit. I think he mentioned that the Ford F 150 is the top selling Vehicle including cars and trucks, not not the top selling truck but the top selling vehicle in all the United States. That does not influence the winner. Correct? Or does it?

Matt DeLorenzo 15:13

No, I don't think volume because as we'll find out when you go through the other vehicles on the list that that volume doesn't, it certainly points to the significance of that vehicle.

Ilana Shabtay 15:28


Matt DeLorenzo 15:28

It also points to how tough a segment it competes in. Because even though it is the best selling vehicle, if you combine Silverado and CRS sales, there are more GM pickups sold than 450 pickups. So it's a, it's a terribly, terribly important segment. But also, that doesn't take away the fact that there are all these groundbreaking features that a jacket with a to like a hybrid powertrain in the pickup in the power and that type of thing. So that's the way that we really approach it is that we look at the vehicle and how it competes in the overall scheme of things.

Jack R. Nerad 16:10

And I think what's interesting too, and I think you'd agree with me, Matt is we really don't have a single procedure, we have parameters, we have things that we look at all 50 years, but I think there's probably 50 different ways of judging. And rather than that being a negative, I think it's a real positive, we don't have just one procedure, we have 50 really good procedures, you know, authored by 50 experts in the field. So I think that their combined wisdom is a great way to pick the North American car truck and utility of the year

Ilana Shabtay 16:45

now was testing the vehicles as the prop to make the process look any different this past year, because of the pandemic.

Matt DeLorenzo 16:57

A little bit. But the key thing is that we were able to bring as many jurors as we can together in the Detroit area to do almost three days of driving back to bat a lot of these vehicles back to back in that program did happen this past year. But a lot of people couldn't attend the manufacturers because of the prestige of the award made it was in their interest to get those vehicles in the hands of jurors. So like I was able to get into all the vehicles last fall on a one by one basis. I also worked for Kelley Blue Book, and we do an annual best, best buy awards. And we get a lot of these same vehicles through our fleet and that testing regimen. So I'm able to, you know, to get in all of them. And one of the reasons, you know, one of the criteria for being a judge is that you regularly review and write about new vehicles. So our jurors, in the course of their daily jobs, are getting into these vehicles for extended periods to evaluate.

Jack R. Nerad 18:10

And I would say it was a little challenging this year. Everything's more challenging here was more challenging in 2020 than ever before. Right. And I think some of our deadlines, we pushed out a little bit just to make certain that all our jurors got into the vehicles in a proper manner. We as Matt alluded to we usually have a big gathering of people not not quite the size of the gathering that took place this past year. Some people just didn't want to travel and you know, we certainly respect that. They are every juror though got the sufficient time and all the vehicles to judge them properly. So that was the important thing.

Ilana Shabtay 18:50

Right. Okay, wonderful. So the next award is our car of the year, which Matt, you can be honored and let us know. Remember, it's the Oscars. I'm pretending like

Ilana Shabtay 19:03

I want my podcast, the podcast where you were when you first heard it here.

Matt DeLorenzo 19:10

Right? Well, you know, we've had something we've had like last year's winner was the Chevy Corvette first mid engine Corvette ever, this year. And this underscores really how the award works. The winner is a Hyundai Elantra which is a compact car. And the reason that one is it does have much better styling than you'd expect from sort of an economy car. And it has a lot of features in it that you wouldn't typically associate with that class of vehicle. So you look at the connectivity in there. The dash and the interior is really nice. They have a big screen version that just really looks Like electric car, and it drives great, and it's priced to sell well. And it's it's interesting because the compact car segment is one of those where we're seeing, actually some manufacturers drop out of that market because the margins are aren't great, the sales aren't great, but the ones who stay in that segment, they're really putting out some of the best cars they've ever put out. And if you're if you're looking even at a midsize car, and you're looking at an average transaction price of $35,000, you owe it to yourself to just kick the tires on a compact car, like the Elantra, save some money and get all the features and nearly the same amount of room and usefulness that you'll get from a midsize car.

Jack R. Nerad 20:52

I would add to I think one of the one of the things that pushed the launcher forward is it was introduced with three different variants that are very different. You know, there's a hybrid version, there's a more conventional version. And then there's an online performance version. So I think that really stood the car in good stead. Another competitor was the Nissan Sentra. And I think you would agree with me that that's a really, really nice compact car. But it was only presented in one flavor where the Elantra came in three separate three different flavors, all of them very, very tasty. So I think that's what put Alondra ahead. Now because

Matt DeLorenzo 21:29

Honda Civic, the Honda Civic has ruled that compact car class for many years, and the fact that they have some very formidable competition in that segment, you know, speaks highly of the manufacturers. Yes, certainly, and the bar and the bar that, you know, Elantra had to overcome to win. Not only did it have a great direct competitor in the Sentra this year, but it also had to beat out the current Civic, you know, to say, this car is actually better than anything else that's out there on the market right now.

Ilana Shabtay 22:07

Okay, so any questions on what you just said, But going back for a second? I'm the I'm the because this, this award does have significance for manufacturers for dealers for consumers. You mentioned that a lot of OEMs are actually dropping the compact, because then the margins aren't there. Do you think that this, this award or the 2020 winner is going to change that for any manufacturers? Now? I know that's a significant decision for manufacturers. But considering that the Hyundai Elantra is really setting the stage for a successful sedan compact car, do you think that that's going to change for any other manufacturers?

Jack R. Nerad 22:52

I don't think it's going to change that much. Because I think that if manufacturers are building compact cars for other markets, and compact sedans for other markets, it makes some sense to bring them in here. I mean, we've had some General Motors is, I guess, a perfect example, Ford Motor Company two, who were building those vehicles elsewhere, certainly and you know, have good compact vehicles and yet dropped them in the United States. So there is some precedent for that, but I don't think we're gonna see too much more attrition among compact cars.

Matt DeLorenzo 23:26

Interesting. Yeah, that's the interesting thing. It's almost like minivans, or all the manufacturers had minivans. But now there's only like four or five left on the market. But there's still a significant slice of the automotive market that wants or needs a minivan. And with fewer competitors in that segment, the ones who are there are finding sufficient volume to make a case for continuing to offer those vehicles.

Ilana Shabtay 23:56

Right, that makes sense. And then this might seem like an obvious, an obvious question or obvious answer to you. But for me, I'm interested in knowing how safety features influence the winner, if at all.

Matt DeLorenzo 24:10

That's huge. I think consumers have come to expect a high level of safety from vehicles. And I think that with the advent of a lot of these blind spot warnings, emergency braking, people expect that technology and the fact that you can get that technology as standard equipment in an economy car is a big deal. And that's one of the things that we look for when we're judging the vehicle is how complete is this suite of safety and driver assists? And at what level? Do you see those there are some that offer based cars that don't have those things on there and that's a knock against them. There are some like the Hyundai where it comes fairly well equipped with a lot of that technology.

Jack R. Nerad 24:56

Yeah, I think the thing that is important too, is our world. For consumers there, we're not an enthusiast award. We're not like a car driver 10 best or something like that designed for enthusiasts drivers were designed for every driver out there. And for truck drivers, we have the Truck of the Year and for those who drive cars, Car of the Year. And then for utilities and a giant segment these days, we have the utility of the year as well. And it's designed to help consumers make good decisions.

Ilana Shabtay 25:27

Wonderful. And lastly, so that we have an attempt to talk about that utility winner of 2021.

Ilana Shabtay 25:35

Let's take it away, Jack.

Jack R. Nerad 25:36

That's one of the most interesting vehicles I think we've tested and named as any of the Year for North America. And in a long time, it's the Ford Mustang Mach II. You don't think of Mustang as a utility, number one, and so you have that going. And then it's an all electric vehicle. It is really a game changer, I think for Ford Motor Company, a game changer for how people will think about that, that brand. And certainly think about the Mustang brand, which is an icon for Ford. So just a lot, a lot going on with it. And I think many of us were skeptical going in, is this a Mustang? Does this make any sense? And I think they changed our mind. So you know, if we were skeptical, I would certainly be convinced that this is a really good car and absolutely worthy of being named utility of the year.

Ilana Shabtay 26:31

Didn't feel like driving a Mustang?

Jack R. Nerad 26:36

I would say in its own way it did. It didn't feel like driving the Mustang coupe. But it certainly is performance oriented. And it even kind of looks like a Mustang right. So it has Mustang stylistically. I think naming it Mustang did a lot for that vehicle because otherwise it was gonna be this kind of pick a name Ford Ed. Right. And by naming a Mustang, I think it centered a lot of the design, it had to have some performance orientation to it, it had to look like a Mustang. So that helped the styling, it really had to deliver in a lot of areas in a different way. I think that if it had not been named Mustang, so I think Mustang was critical to its success.

Matt DeLorenzo 27:25

I think that if you go back and look at the Mustangs origins, it basically was an economy car that had a racy looking two door coupe body slapped on it, and sold at an affordable price. So history is sort of repeating itself in that, you know, crossover segment SUV segment has a certain idea of what those vehicles should look like and how they perform. Ford reaches back into its catalog and pulls out the Mustang, which has its own set of, I don't know, expectations or warm fuzzy feelings on the part of people who liked the design. And they successfully grafted that design onto a sport utility, boxy kind of shape. And then underneath that they put in a nav platform. And that performs pretty much on the same level from an acceleration and that point of view as a Mustang muscle car would. And they're out there in the marketplace with the kind of build quality that you expect from an established manufacturer does not come across as some sort of science project that you know, it's a real car, and it's comfortable. It's quick. And it's a game changer for the segment.

Ilana Shabtay 28:53

That's awesome. I hope I get to try it one day and be pressed. Yeah. And Jack already knows this, but I'm not I don't I'm not such a car person. But as I do these podcasts more and more I want to do is test drive all these cars. So I hope I get a chance. Now I know you guys are strictly working or naturally strictly working with manufacturers. Correct. So there's no Apple Car in our future for the unnatural Aria award? Or if there

Jack R. Nerad 29:23

could be I mean, it depends on whether Apple comes with it with a car. I mean, it seems ever more likely, doesn't it?

Matt DeLorenzo 29:32

It does seem ever more likely. But who knows? Really? Well. I

Matt DeLorenzo 29:37

think that's the interesting thing about the electric vehicle market is that in the past, the barriers for new competitors to come into the segment were pretty high. You know, you have to have build engines and transmissions and put together cars. with electric vehicle technology. Everybody's starting basically on a level playing field. So you've had new competitors Come into the marketplace at a time when the industry itself is consolidating. So you have Tesla. Next year, I'm hoping we have reviens to drive in the truck categories and SUV categories. So it's really an interesting time to be in the business because of all the change that's going on.

Ilana Shabtay 30:18

I agree. I agree. We have a lot to look forward to, on the software side on the connected car side on the electric vehicle side. So we're at a very exciting time in automotive. Thank you both for your expertise and for enlightening me as well as our listeners on nactoy and the 2021 winners. I really appreciate your time and for our listeners. If you liked this episode, tune in to Inside Auto Podcast. Thank you, Matt. Thank you, Jack.

Outro 30:47

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