The Motor Trend Car of the Year is an annual award given by Motor Trend magazine to recognize the best new or significantly refreshed car in a given model year.
Motor Trend, which debuted in 1949, was the first publication to name a Car of the Year. Over time, other organizations have selected a "Car of the Year", but those organizations' awards are not associated with Motor Trend despite the identical award name.
Motor Trend's first Car of the Year award went to Cadillac's V8 engine models in 1949. The earliest awards were given to the manufacturer, not to a specific vehicle. The award has since expanded to include the pickup truck and sport utility vehicle (SUV) of the year, which are awarded separately from the Car of the Year. Until 1999, the award was only eligible to American-made cars; imports had their own category, the Import of the Year. The rationale for the combination was explained by editor Angus Mackenzie as "Because it's so hard to say that, for example, a Toyota Camry, built in Kentucky and designed in California, is less American than a Ford that may have been built in Canada or Mexico and designed in Europe." Since the combination of the awards, American cars have won the award seven times, and imports have won six times.
Motor Trend's Car of the Year is "one of the most prestigious honors bestowed in the auto industry." The trophy for the winner, a depiction of calipers, is often used in the winning automaker's marketing and advertising. Most cars that win the award report a spike in sales. However, receiving Motor Trend's recognition is no guarantee of success. This was the case of the nostalgic 2002 Ford Thunderbird, which did not meet expectations and was pulled from the market three years later.
To be eligible for the award, a car must be an "all-new" or "substantially upgraded" vehicle that has been on sale within 12 months from the previous November, vehicles that have been on sale for over five years are ineligible for the award). In recent years, each contender is ranked in the following three areas: superiority, significance, and value. It is not a comparison test. Motor Trend also only considers cars with base MSRPs less than $100,000 in order to avoid expensive luxury and super cars dominating the competition.
Vehicles are subjected a battery of tests: standard car tests such as skid-pad ratings, acceleration and quarter-mile times, and evaluations of the interiors are combined with a track run conducted by SCCA-licensed testers and taking the cars out on normal roads to test their drivability under normal conditions, and fuel economy. Trucks and SUVs add towing capacity and speed, plus an off-road course, to the normal regimen.
Introduced in 1970 for one year and then brought back in 1976 due to distinguishing differences between imports and American cars, was discontinued after the 1999 model year when the line between what is truly American and what isn't became very blurry.