Might debate about the 10 vehicles selected as national car of the year finalists be tarnished by disgruntlement about the one that has not?
AN American brawn king icon that has clearly won a strong public vote has failed to muscle into consideration for the country’s highest and most recognised motoring award.
The Ford Mustang’s absence from the top 10 finalists for the New Zealand Car of the Year that will be announced in Auckland on December 7 has shocked Ford New Zealand and might well jar with an impressively huge enthusiast following to whom this king of America’s mainstream, blue collar performance is nothing less than an automotive icon.
Whether that impacts on the credibility of an award created by the New Zealand Motoring Writers’ Guild and offered annually since 1988, now in conjunction with the New Zealand Automobile Association, is anyone’s guess.
Recognition that COTY is of unsurpassed integrity, relevance and prestige means it has long been given the most respect out of the motoring prizes offered in New Zealand.
Guild president Liz Dobson has offered thought about why the legend didn’t speak as loudly to the selection sub-committee as the Holden Spark, Honda Civic, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-9, Mercedes Benz E-Class and GLC, Skoda Superb, Subaru Levorg, Suzuki Vitara and Volkswagen Tiguan.
“The voting panel for the final 10 had to narrow the list of vehicles from 35 eligible vehicles released during the 12 month voting period.
“The Ford Mustang is great value and has done well in the New Zealand. It, along with some very strong contenders, made it through several of our ‘culls’ of finalist lists and down to the last few.
“This year there were a number of new models that made compelling arguments in their sectors and in the context of the voting criteria”.
In a release sent out today signaling the top 10, she has also offered that the selection covers a full market spectrum “not only in categories but prices too” and was strong on variety.
“There’s a $16,490 hatchback (the Spark) and also one of the technologically advanced vehicles in the world (the E-Class).”
AA Motoring Services General Manager Stella Stocks is also satisfied, saying the lineup - pictured below - is a good representation of the market, from an entry level choice right through to the luxury end.
“It’s pleasing to see many affordable options included in the top 10 list of finalists boasting a lot of safety technology and great design. There really is something for everyone with this year’s line up.”
Ford New Zealand’s angst was obvious today.
“I am as perplexed as anyone,” communications and Government Affairs manager Tom Clancy said.
“I have no idea why the most successful, iconic and exciting sports car to land in New Zealand did not make the finalists’ list. You’ll need to ask the judges.”
Mustang’s demise was ruled on Monday when the Guild’s sub-committee, comprising journalists and a representative from the Automobile Association, a COTY partner since 2012, met to consider which of all the new models introduced this year and in the latter part of 2015 were worthy finalists.
What exact views were expressed is not made public, but the format of the occasion is no secret.
The selection process typically kicks off which each committee member proposing their favourite 10 contenders. Invariably cross-referencing leaves more contenders than available places, so those in the room then debate the pros and cons of each to winnow down to the requisite number.
The guidelines for making the cut are the same that will be used by all Guild members when they subsequently pick a winner from the shortlist, a task they must address on or before October 31.
Candidate cars are considered for styling, performance, handling, economy, comfort, interior design, build quality and finish, practicality, value for money and their ‘x-factor’.
In this writer’s eyes, the Mustang is deficient in some of those areas – quality from the Flat Rock, Michigan plant isn’t seamless – and the interior balances between chintzy and bland.
But it has huge charisma, true stonk and a decent value sway, not least in 5.0-litre form - being the sole sub-$100k V8 coupe on the market.
Tech-wise, it isn’t exactly as dinosaur-like as those yester-year styling cues might suggest.
In addition to being the first in the family to have independent rear suspension that much improves its dynamics, it also breaks convention by offering the option – admittedly not taken up by many – of an energetic and efficient four-cylinder engine.
As for x-factor? Well, if that alone determined admission then it’d surely ride right up front because no other car has ever created so much excitement. Mustang mania is a certifiable disease.
Kiwis were chasing a ride as soon as Ford announced four years ago that the car would, for the first time in 50 years, be produced in right-hand-drive.
Also, while sales success has never been a factor given much weight for this competition – if it did, then the Toyota Corolla would scoop in every fresh iteration - clearly the Stang has romped away there, too.
Mustang has pretty much doubled the size of New Zealand’s sports car segment compared to last year. It even ranked as the No.2 selling Ford model - behind its Ranger ute - in the May registration figures.
Coupes are generally boom and bust – the Toyota 86 that won in 2012 was losing sales pace even when it took the Guild’s gong less than a year on being launched – yet that hasn’t happened with Mustang.
Ford New Zealand’s supply cycle remains stretched. It will deliver about 1200 Mustangs by the end of this year, some being cars ordered in 2016, and yet it has more customers in line for 2017 delivery.
It’s not that the Guild could be accused of being anti-sports – aside from the 86, the Mazda MX-5 has taken the silverware twice, in 2002 and 1990 – or Ford-phobic (Mondeo, Falcon, Focus and Fiesta are past winners), and it would rile at being called anti-American though, of course, had it achieved glory it would have been the first ever US-born winner.
This year’s Guild announcement has not run wholly smoothly. While the top 10 was in theory subject to an embargo that lifted when a press release went out this morning Honda New Zealand, apparently unaware of the protocols, emailed out a group message on Tuesday afternoon expressing delight that the new Civic had made the cut.
Mustang still has a chance of a gong. Separate from the selection of the Car of the Year, the awards process now also presents ‘best in class’ categories, including one covering the ‘sports/performance’ sector that the Mustang would conceivably fit most naturally into. It might also become the car that achieves highest adulation in the 'people's choice' category, the only one that is open to public vote. But those are small potatoes. There's only one big prize on the night, and it isn't eligible.
Other car categories cover small, compact, medium car and large models. There are also categories for the best SUVs in small/medium and large, the top utility and the premier premium selection.
The AA also determines the year’s safest car, a citation going to the vehicle that received the highest Australasian New Car Assessment Programme (ANCAP) rating for both crash test performance and pedestrian safety over the past 12 months.
# Disclaimer. The writer has been a Guild member for almost 30 years and has served in positions of office, including three consecutive terms as president, and is a member of the current Guild executive. He was also on the NZ Car of the Year selection sub-committee in 2014.