The North American Car, Utility, and Truck of the Year awards are the closest thing the auto industry has to the Academy Awards. A team of jurors comprised of about 50 automotive journalists gather each year to pick the best vehicles in three categories. For 2020, the group picked three vehicles that either substantially shake up their respective segments or introduce a fundamentally new paradigm for the industry. These are absolutely solid picks worth discussing.
We actually haven’t talked about much about the C8 Corvette at Curbside, but there’s really not much left to be said that other outlets haven’t mentioned already. It’s a revolutionary redesign that finally delivered on the long-promised mid-engine Corvette, something that’s been teased for at least 50 years. It ditched the manual transmission for an eight speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, another first. And GM also decided to break with tradition by offering buyers a truly luxurious interior. The C7 arguably ended that practice years ago, but the C8 definitively killed any chances of it returning. Also, two GM engineers recently got arrested for racing a pair of pre-production models on public roads.
Then there’s the performance figures. With a 0-60 mph time of around 3 seconds, the 490 horsepower C8 is an incredibly quick vehicle, even in its most basic trim. A starting price of just under $60,000 (likely much higher with dealer markup) makes it an incredible bargain compared to something like a Porsche 911 Carrera, which starts at approximately $97,000. It basically puts the German and Italian luxury sports cars on notice. Future performance variants are bound to do the same. There might even be an all-wheel drive hybrid variant in its future! This is an absolute win for General Motors and the entire industry.
The Telluride may not be a game-changing vehicle like the C8, but it is an extremely credible entry into the mainstream three-row crossover segment. The consensus is that while the Kia Telluride (and to a lesser extent, the Hyundai Palisade) aren’t revolutionary, their all-around competence in areas like cargo capacity, interior and exterior design, and user-friendly features are bound to shake up the segment in a big way. They are also clear indicators that Hyundai Motor Company has pivoted to a new paradigm based on sophisticated style and content-packed vehicles for a reasonable price.
Previously, some Korean cars contained one or two of those qualities. And if they did, it was offered at a bargain basement price. Now the company is baking all of their cars with that type of DNA and holding the line on MSRP. Last year the company gained ground during a period where most automakers posted substantial declines in volume. These crossovers could potentially be the heralds of a very prosperous era for Hyundai.
Jeep’s Gladiator also shakes up a relatively staid segment. With its steep base price, the Gladiator might not be a top seller, but it is representative of the relatively new “lifestyle vehicle” trend that is bound to fundamentally transform the industry in the next few years. With its built in off-road capability, removable roof, and diverse powertrain lineup, Jeep built a mid-size pickup tailored exactly to the individuals in the market for such a product. From a product standpoint, it’s one of the first signs that the Big Three were justified in dropping passenger cars from their lineup. If the Gladiator is successful, other vehicles like the Ford Bronco will be too.
Kudos to the jurors who picked these three winners. This trio is bound to make a significant impact in North America, and they deserved the awards.