Posted by: David Welch on January 7, 2007
You could hear General Motors marketers crying “huzzah” after the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards were announced. GM swept the awards with the Chevrolet Silverado pickup and the Saturn Aura sedan winning the hardware. A panel of automotive journalists picked the Silverado over the Ford Edge and Mazda CX-7 crossover suvs. The Aura beat the Toyota Camry and the Honda Fit. Last year, Honda swept with the Ridgeline pickup and Civic compact.
My personal picks? I’d have picked the Aura, but not Silverado. It’s not that the Silverado isn’t a great pickup. It is. But we already know GM can make a great pickup. The company always has. With large pickup sales dropping 10% last year and crossovers being the hottest buy in the business, both the Edge and the CX-7 are more significant vehicles. I’d have picked the CX-7. It has a lean, almost aerodynamic design but still has a lot of passenger space. It’s a true win for Mazda. Plus, the new Toyota Tundra pickup wasn’t in the running. Since Toyota starts selling its new truck in February, it didn’t qualify for the contest. So it’s like saying the Red Sox won the American League east in a year that the Yankees weren’t playing. There is one point worth making: GM rushed Silverado to market six months sooner, thus beating Toyota to market. It was a smart move, and probably netted GM this award.
As for the Aura, it’s a very good car and deserves the victory. Toyotaphiles will say I’m crazy and will likely gripe that this was a home town choice. The awards are given at the Detroit auto show. But I have driven the Aura. It’s got a fresh and progressive design, well-appointed cabin and it’s one of the quietest cars I’ve driven for less than $30,000. PLaudits from the media haven’t translated into big sales yet. But given the fact that Saturn buyers love the dealership experience, but have been waiting for years for some cars worth driving, the Aura still has a chance to be a hit. The new Camry is a good car, too, and it comes already with a hybrid-electric option. Saturn will have a hybrid Aura soon enough. Given the beloved brand image of Toyota, Saturn’s victory is like the Tampa Bay Devil rays winning the division while the Yankees were playing.
Above the celebratory cheers at GM, I hear the sound of marching feet. It’s a torch-lit procession of angry readers who are ready to chase the panel of journalists who picked the Aura over Carmy up a windmill. In any case, you have to hand it to GM. Just having two finalists is a clear sign that Vice Chairman Bob Lutz’s cars are getting a lot better.