To get a sense of how quickly the automotive world is transforming, simply check out the list of candidates for the 2023 North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year Awards.
The list includes a record 19 all-electric models, ranging from the new Ford F-150 Lightning to the Mercedes-Benz EQE. There are numerous models that are available only as hybrids, including the new Toyota Sequoia, other offered with multiple powertrains that include electrified options.
All told, 47 cars, trucks and utility vehicles are on the newly released NACTOY list, tying the previous record number of eligible models included in 2019. Of those, 13 are all-new or substantially updated passenger cars, with another three trucks and 31 utility vehicles on the list that jurors will have to consider before winners are announced in January 2023.
“This high number of eligible vehicles highlights the wide range of choices consumers have among new vehicles this year,” said NACTOY President Gary Witzenburg, “driven primarily by increased offerings of battery-electric vehicles, continued popularity of the utility category and arrivals of new OEMs. We look forward to testing and evaluating this diverse list of exciting vehicles to determine this year’s three NACTOY Award winners.”
Founded in 1994, NACTOY has a history of highlighting change in the auto industry, and this coming year will be no exception. Until recently, battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs, constituted a minor niche in the North American automotive market. As recently as 2019, they constituted barely 1% of total new vehicle sales. That is currently running at around 5% and is forecast to reach double-digits before mid-decade.
A variety of factors are influencing that shift, but one of the most critical is the launch of new long-range models. And they are targeting an increasingly larger range of product segments. The GMC Hummer and Rivian R1T pickups, which were considered in 2022, will be followed this year by the Ford Lightning — with even more electric trucks to come in 2024.
Many of the EVs on the NACTOY list fall into the luxury category, such as the Mercedes EQE and Genesis GV60, while others are aiming for more mainstream buyers. That includes the Subaru Solterra and Toyota bZ4X. Those models also demonstrate how more and more “legacy” brands are getting into the BEV market.
But BEV startup Rivian is back for a second year in a row with its new R1S sport-utility vehicle.
While vehicles using conventional gas engines still dominate the list, of the 47 eligible products, a growing number use electrified drivetrain technology — at least on some trim packages. The Toyota Corolla Cross gets a conventional hybrid option for 2023, while the new Sequoia SUV will be offered solely with the hybrid iForce Max powertrain. The completely updated Kia Niro will be offered for 2023 with hybrid, plug-in and all-electric options.
Rivian isn’t the only new name on this year’s NACTOY roster. There are three other startups, Fisker Inc., Lordstown Motors and VinFast. Fisker is a known entity. However, VinFast is a Vietnamese brand that is switching to an all-electric line-up. Its midsize VF 8 and larger VF 9 models are scheduled to launch late this year, though the automaker has hinted their debut could be pushed back into 2023. Lordstown, meanwhile, has run into a series of financial problems and some industry observers question whether it will make it into production in time to qualify for the 2023 NACTOY awards — if ever.
Three rounds of voting
During the nearly three decades the awards have been handed out it’s been fairly commonplace for some products to be dropped from the eligible list, and others to be added before judging is completed.
All told, 50 U.S. and Canadian journalists make up the NACTOY jury. They pare down the vehicle list with two initial rounds of voting before three finalists in each category are chosen, typically in December. The winners will be announced in January.
In 2022, Ford captured two out of the three categories with its Bronco SUV and the Maverick pickup which is offered with a base hybrid option. The Honda Civic took top honors in the passenger car category.
NACTOY jurors aren’t the only ones having to deal with a changing automotive landscape. In April, five of the six winners in the World Car of the Year awards were battery-electric models. The Hyundai Ioniq 5 took three of those honors, including World Car of the Year.