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Detroit’s shift away from cars leads to historic change

  • For the first time in the history of the North American Car of the Year, the panel choosing the winner will not be considering a car built by a Detroit automaker.
  • GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler do not even have a single entry among the 12 models eligible for car of the year.
General Motors' Chevrolet logo is displayed during a North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
General Motors' Chevrolet logo is displayed during a North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Call it a sign of the times.

For the first time in the history of the North American Car of the Year, the panel choosing the winner will not be considering a car built by a Detroit automaker.

"This is a watershed moment," said Mark Phelan, auto critic for the Detroit Free Press and president of the organization that picks the car and truck of the year. "It really does show how far the industry has moved."

The North American Car and Truck of the Year is selected by more than 50 automotive journalists who drive the newest vehicles and ultimately decide the three finalists for the award. The winner is announced at the start of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit each January. In short, it is huge honor for an automaker to be awarded car, truck or utility vehicle of the year.

But this year, GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler do not even have a single entry among the 12 models eligible for car of the year.

"I am certain this is the first time in 25 years of determining this award that we have not had a Detroit brand on the list." said Phelan.

Why are no Big Three cars on the list this year? It's due to the fact GM, Ford and Chrysler have not rolled out brand-new cars in the last year (putting a new engine in an existing model does not qualify it for car of the year).

While some will lament the lack of a Big Three semifinalist for car of the year, Phelan points out Detroit has many candidates among the pickups and SUVs up for truck of the year or utility vehicle of the year.

"Detroit is ahead of the curve when it comes for trucks, SUVs and crossovers," he said. "The market has shifted to those bigger vehicles and Detroit's automakers are being very smart investing in the types of models people want to buy."

The Big Three have five of the 20 models eligible for utility vehicle of the year and all three of the models in the running for truck of the year come from Detroit brands.