Car of the Year flops

Chevy Citation, Renault Alliance, Plymouth Volare: All destined for the scrap heap and every one of them a critics pick. What were they thinking?

Oh, the benefit of hindsight
Car of the year awards have become a global phenomenon, and their abundance can be confusing. There is a world car of the year award, an international car of the year award, a European car of the year, and a green car of the year award.

In the U.S., the two most prominent awards are Motor Trend's, chosen by the magazine's editors, and the North American Car of the Year (NACOTY), selected by a panel of 50 journalists.

As prize season approaches, it is good to remember that even the judgments of such august bodies of experts (and I am a member of the latter) are not impeccable.

They have voted for cars that were not only not the best cars of their year but among the worst -- and not just of their award year but any year. Some of the poorer choices could have been foreseen. A Mustang II that was sired by the Pinto? A Chevy Caprice that dazzled voters in two separate incarnations? Other misfires are for cars that seemed initially appealing but turned out to be deeply flawed. And some others were chosen because of their novelty appeal while their inconsequential engineering was ignored.

Motor Trend is thought to have originated the car of the year concept, selecting Cadillac's V-8 models in its first year of publication in 1949. Early on, the award acquired a louche reputation when it was rumored to be offered in exchange for advertising pages paid for by the manufacturer and other emoluments. Since then, Motor Trend has gone to great lengths to make its selection process more transparent.

In six of the last 11 years, Motor Trendpicks have been identical to NACOTY's, the jounalist group organized in 1993, which hasn't dodged its own growing pains and blind spots. In the early years, its voters displayed a preference for glamour, glitz, and all things Chrysler. More recently, though, it has taken a deeper look and done a remarkable job of shrugging off hometown bias. Over a ten-year stretch, 15 car of the year finalists were domestic nameplates -- and 15 were imports.

But half a century of car of the year selections by both teams has created lots of opportunities for clunkers and here are some of the biggest.


By Alex Taylor III, senior-editor-at-large - Last updated September 28 2011: 5:53 AM ET
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