Honda swept the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards today at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show, winning the awards for a new Honda Ridgeline truck and a redesigned Civic sedan. In doing so, they ushered in an era in which Asian automakers may become known as builders of the highest quality, most innovative cars and trucks available for purchase in North America.
That’s cars and trucks, at least according to the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, a collection of 49 automotive journalists from Canada and the United States. The jury votes on the new and significantly updated vehicles each model year via a point system. The awards, which have been handed out since 1994, have never before honored the same nameplate for both.
While widely expected that the Honda Civic would win Car of the Year Honors, it came as a surprise when the Honda Ridgeline outpolled the Ford Explorer and the Nissan Xterra for Truck of the Year. The double award set several significant precedents: it’s the first time Asian cars have won both car and truck of the year honors, the first time one automaker has swept the awards, and the first time since 2003 that domestic automakers were shut out of either the Car of the Year or Truck of the Year Awards.
The results, especially in regard to the Ridgeline, point to a new automotive reality: it’s no longer enough for automakers to make improvements to existing vehicles, they must find innovative ways to make vehicles far better than previous versions. As the automotive industry moves toward a future of increased global competition, with more automakers selling more types of vehicles to people with vastly divergent tastes, innovation in terms of safety, performance and convenience will be key, and car shoppers will favor automakers who use technology to improve their vehicles in significant ways. The Ridgeline, with its in-bed trunk and composite bed, is one of the first examples of this innovation hitting the truck market.
Truck mainstays such as General Motors, Ford and Dodge will be challenged to come up with an answer to the Ridgeline, which effectively packages what suburban families want from a truck: Crossover-like ride, towing power for 5,000 lbs., and enough in-bed room for a typical run to a Home Improvement center.
The Civic’s award verifies what most have known for
years: most of the rest of the competition have not yet managed to match the likes of Honda and Toyota when it comes to building commuter-friendly, dependable sedans. And though Ford’s latest mid-size sedan foray, the Ford Fusion, did well in voting and has received positive sales results of late, the Civic – with its breadth of trim choices, innovative technology and quality construction – shows that the gap has not closed so much, after all.