The shortlist for European Car of the Year 2014 has been made public. These seven cars still have a shot at the ultimate prize:
- BMW i3
- Citroen C4 Picasso
- Mercedes-Benz S – Class
- Peugeot 308
- Skoda Octavia
- Tesla Model S
Among those who didn’t make the cut, the most surprising is the Renault Zoe EV, especially considering a couple of average-Joe midsized vehicles that don’t really offer anything new did make it through. Yes, Octavia and 308, I am talking about you.
Is the Zoe not revolutionary enough? It is basically an evolution of the 2011 winner Nissan Leaf, without offering any groundbreaking new technologies. But then what is the Skoda Octavia doing on this shortlist? This is exactly the same vehicle as last year’s winner Volkswagen Golf, but with a different skin. It offers absolutely nothing new compared to the Golf, and to call its design groundbreaking would be the exaggeration of the century.
Previous surprising and not-so surprising winners
We cannot look into the future without remembering the past. The past teaches us there have been some surprising winners of the Car of the Year trophy, for example:
- 1977: Rover 3500 (SD1)
- 1978: Porsche 928
- 1979: Simca/Chrysler/Talbot Horizon
The Rover SD1 was one of the prime examples of what was wrong with British Leyland, as despite it was one of Britain’s greatest design, it was also Britain’s worst built car, with parts falling off, paint flaking and electronics that would go on strike more often than the unmotivated union worker that had put it together. They must have stayed together long enough to convince the jurors that this would be the best car 1978 money could buy.
The Porsche 928 remains the only sports car to ever win the Car of the Year trophy, something the hugely popular 911, the car it was supposed to replace, has never been able to do. It didn’t help the 928 though, as we all know the 911 just refused to be replaced. The 911 probably never won because it has just evolved slowly but steadily and was never a revolution from the outgoing model
The Horizon was much better at convincing the COTY jurors than it was at convincing the press and the public of its perceived qualities. It would be the last model Simca/Talbot would produce, as its successor was marketed as the Peugeot 309.
More unsurprising winners have been:
- 1964: Rover 2000 (P6)
- 1966: Renault 16
- 1967: Fiat 124
- 1968: NSU Ro80
- 1975: Citroën CX
- 1997: Renault Megane Scenic
- 2005: Toyota Prius
- 2011: Nissan Leaf
- 2012: Opel Ampera/Chevrolet Volt
Which were game-changers in their respective time periods, offering either new technology or groundbreaking design.
History of Car of the Year
The winner by the largest margin over the number 2 was in 1970, when the Fiat 128 scored almost 2,5 times as many points as the Autobianchi A112 (235 vs.96, with a different voting system then). More recently, in 2013 the Volkswagen Golf scored more than double the number of points than the Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ twins (414 vs. 202).
The closest race was in 2001, when the Alfa Romeo 147 beat the Ford Mondeo by a single point, and the first generation Toyota Prius was in third place also not very far behind (238 vs. 237 vs. 229). In 2009 the Opel Insignia also won by the smallest possible margin, edging out the Ford Fiesta (321 vs. 320).
The most successful Car of the Year winners, measured by their production numbers, are:
- Fiat 124 with almost 20 million units (including Lada Zhiguli and other derivatives) from 1966 till 2012
- Fiat 127 with almost 6,5 million units from 1971 till 1995
- Fiat Uno, with over 6,2 million units and counting (it is still produced in South-America) since 1983
- Peugeot 405 with over 4,6 million units and counting (it is still produced in Iran) since 1987
But winning the Car of the Year trophy is not a guarantee for success. Of the NSU Ro80, only 37.395 units have been produced from 1967 till 1977 and around 61.000 units of the Porsche 928 from 1977 till 1995.
And four brands that no longer exist today have won a combined 6 trophies since the first election in 1964:
- 1964: Rover P6
- 1965: Austin 1800
- 1968: NSU Ro80
- 1976: Simca 1307/1308
- 1977: Rover 3500 (SD1)
- 1979: Simca Horizon
Of those that have survived, Fiat is the clear leader, with 9 trophies, compared to Renault’s 6 and Ford’s 5 and Opel’s 4, but none of those will chalk up another victory to their records this year. On the other side: BMW, Mazda, Skoda and Tesla all have a shot at their first Car of the Year award.
BMW has had five podiums:
- 1967: BMW 1600, second place
- 1969: BMW 2500/2800, second place
- 1976: BMW 3-series, second place
- 1978: BMW 7-series , second place
- 1987: BMW 7-series, third place
Mazda has had three podiums:
- 2003: Mazda 6, second place
- 2004: Mazda 3, second place
- 2008: Mazda 2, second place
While Skoda and Tesla have never even been on the podium before.
Of the other contestants, Citroën has won three times before:
- 1971: Citroën GS
- 1975: Citroën CX
- 1990: Citroën XM
Peugeot also has three victories:
- 1969: Peugeot 504
- 1988: Peugeot 405
- 2002: Peugeot 307
and Mercedes-Benz has won once before, also with the S-class, back in 1974.
So which car will have the best shot at the 2014 Car of the Year title?
In selecting the car of the year, the jurors use the following criteria: design, comfort, safety, economy, handling, performance, functionality, environmental requirements, driver satisfaction, and price. Technical innovation and value for money are particularly important factors.
My bet would be the Tesla Model S, because despite its relatively high price point, it does offer great value for money and it ticks all the other boxes perfectly. The only hurdle on its way to victory could be that most of Tesla’s sales have been in Norway, The Netherlands and Denmark, thanks to government subsidies on EVs in those countries. Since the jurors come from 22 different European countries, some may be too short-sighted to see enough sales potential in their country for the Model S.
The winner will be announced at the Geneva Autoshow, March 3rd 2014.