NACTOY and Product Development
The North American Car, Utility and Truck (NACTOY; www.northamericancaroftheyear.org) awards have been presented to global OEMs for more than 20 years by a panel of judges consisting of automotive journalists who spend their days—and often nights—obsessing over all things automotive: driving, interviewing, comparing, kvetching, traveling. I know because I am one of them.
This month (October 2018, in case you are reading this at some other point in time beyond its posting) the NACTOY jurors will be meeting in Ypsilanti, Michigan, to drive the cars, utilities and trucks that have been nominated for the 2019 award, which will be presented at the 2019 North American International Auto Show in Detroit (www.naias.com).
The semifinalists are:
Buick Regal Tour X
Toyota Avalon/Avalon Hybrid
Toyota Corolla Hatchback
Hyundai Santa Fe
Chevrolet Silverado 1500
GMC Sierra 1500
The vehicles will be winnowed down to three in each category (so, obviously, the three finalists for the truck category are there; the car and utility finalists will be announced at AutoMobility LA/LA Auto Show (www.laautoshow.com) on November 28).
There are a few interesting points about this list of vehicles, all of which have been introduced into the market this year (or were introduced too later for consideration last year for the 2018 awards).
For one thing, with the exception of that truck category, there is an obvious dearth of vehicles on the list from the Traditional Big Three. There is nothing from Ford or Lincoln, although it is worth noting that there is the product cadence that drives the NACTOY-considered vehicles (so next year, for example, you can bet that the Ford Ranger and the Lincoln Aviator will both be on the list).
Still, this should give some pause.
While Buick is on the Car list with the Regal Tour X, for those who care about such things, is based on the Opel Insignia, from the German brand that GM has sold to the French (PSA).
Other than that, no cars from the TBT.
In the utility category, which is measurably the hottest thing going, there are the Cadillac XT4 and the Jeep Wrangler, with the former being the vehicle that Cadillac has a whole lot riding on in order to boost its sales which have been long languishing outside of the XT5 and the Escalade, and the latter the venerable Jeep that has continued to be a no-compromise utility when many other vehicles are becoming softer and suppler.
Here’s something that truly stands out. Look at the number of products from Hyundai: the Veloster, Kona and Santa Fe, and one could add the Genesis G70, the premium marque that the company has established. From Toyota: Avalon, Corolla Hatchback, RAV4. Then Nissan: Altima, Leaf, Kicks, and let’s add its premium brand, Infiniti with the QX50.
Here are companies that are relentlessly putting out products. Note that not only are they developing and producing utilities (Kona, Santa Fe, RAV4, Kicks, QX50), but cars, as well (Veloster, G70, Avalon, Corolla Hatchback, Altima, Leaf)—even though car sales—as in things that don’t have a slightly elevated ride height—are declining, make no mistake: there are, and will continue to be, millions of cars sold in the market.
OEMs have plenty on their proverbial plates right now, things that are requiring non-trivial investments, things like electrification and automation. So one might excuse them from having a lot of product on offer.
Yet if we look at Hyundai, Toyota and Nissan, these are companies that are putting huge resources behind those things: the week before the Ypsilanti drive I had the opportunity to drive a battery electric and a fuel cell electric from Hyundai (the Kona EV and the Nexo), which will undoubtedly be up for 2020 NACTOY consideration; Toyota continues to invest in not only hybrids, but has even created a stand-alone operation for developing autonomous technology (Toyota Research Institute); and Nissan is continuing to push electric vehicles—as in the Leaf that is one of this year’s candidates—and it, too, is investing big in autonomy.
So there is the question of the competitiveness of the others that just don’t seem to be showing up much on the list.
Japan’s SoftBank Vision Fund is investing $2.3 billion in General Motors Co.’s Cruise Automation unit.
When it comes to the deployment of robots, the auto industry is the hands-down leader. Or maybe that should be “gripper down”
The Hyundai Motor Group is directing some of its attention and resources toward the development of robotic technology, which includes wearable robots, service robots and micromobility.