By Henry Payne
Auto critic for The Detroit News
Correction: This story has been updated to say that Tesla decided not to participate in the 2018 NACTOY awards.
Semifinalists for the prestigious 2018 North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year were announced Friday morning, and the list is as notable for what did not make it as for what did.
For the first time in the award’s 25-year history, not a single Detroit-based automaker is nominated for Car of the Year — a sign of the massive market shift to sport utility vehicles over sedans.
Since the 2008 recession, SUV sales have surged to over 60 percent of market share, with General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. studying whether to end production of full-size and subcompact autos. No new Detroit Three sedans were eligible for this year’s NACTOY selection process.
Ironically, one of the year’s most anticipated vehicles is a sedan, the Tesla Model 3. But Tesla decided not to participate this year, citing commitments to other projects including scaling up Model 3 production.
GM leads all manufacturers with four nominees in the truck and utility categories. Up for Utility of the Year will be the midsize Buick Enclave, and GM’s Chevrolet division will have three nominees for the NACTOY trophy. The compact Chevy Equinox and mid-size Traverse will compete for best ute while the Colorado ZR2 pickup truck will vie for Truck of the Year honors against the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator — the only nominees from the Blue Oval stable.
Ford’s stunning GT supercar was deemed ineligible for NACTOY in July due to its low sales volume, its $450,000 sticker price and lack of availability to the general public. Ford has selected all 750 buyers of the GT through an application process.
Also ineligible was Dodge’s halo, 840-horsepower Challenger SRT Demon coupe that has set a production car record 9.65-second quarter-mile time. With the same drivetrain and structure as Dodge’s 707-horse Challenger SRT Hellcat — introduced for the 2015 model year — the Demon is not sufficiently altered to meet NACTOY’s criteria as a separate model.
Other notables vying for top SUV are the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Honda Odyssey, and VW Atlas and Tiguan. The Stelvio, the Italian brand’s first SUV, will square off against perennial favorites from Audi and BMW. Minivans have also seen their market share crater in the face of the SUV juggernaut, but Honda has doubled down on its popular Odyssey minivan bringing new tech to market like a horizontally-sliding second-row seat. And VW hopes to put Dieselgate in its rear-view mirror with two three-row SUVs tailored for the US market.
Despite its its diminished status, the car category will feature a face-off between two of the industry’s iconic models — the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Determined to remain relevant (and maintain their 300,000-plus unit sales) in Ute Nation, the two sedans received major chassis, styling, and tech updates for 2018 that blur the distinction between luxury and mainstream sedans.
They will be clear favorites, but other notables in the car class are BMW’s premium benchmark 5-series, the sexy Alfa Romeo Giulia, and athletic Kia Stinger fastback which the Korea automaker has positioned as a halo vehicle for the brand’s sporty vibe.
The NACTOY award is one of the industry’s most prestigious. Some 60 auto experts from the U.S. and Canada, including the author of this article, will evaluate the nominees in October over a week of grueling testing, flogging and eyeballing in the Metro Detroit area.
Three finalists from each category will be selected and announced at the Los Angeles Auto Show in late November. The winners will be unveiled January 14 at the opening of the 2018 Detroit auto show.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia
2018 Audi A5 Sportback
2017 BMW 5-series
2018 Honda Accord
2017 Hyundai Ioniq
2018 Kia Rio
2018 Kia Stinger
2018 Lexus LC500
2017 Porsche Panamera
2018 Subaru Impreza
2018 Toyota Camry
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio
2018 Audi Q5/S5
2018 BMW X3
2018 Buick Enclave
2018 Chevrolet Equinox
2018 Chevrolet Traverse
2018 Honda Odyssey
2017 Jeep Compass
2017 Kia Niro
2018 Land Rover Discovery
2017 Mazda CX-5
2018 Subaru Crosstrek
2018 VW Atlas
2018 VW Tiguan
2018 Volvo XC60
2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
2018 Ford Expedition
2018 Lincoln Navigator