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AJAC ‘best of’ list the only one that counts

Published October 26, 2012

Every time a freelance journalist drives a car for review in Toronto Star Wheels, we acknowledge that the vehicle was provided by the manufacturer.

When one of our journalists goes to Europe or the United States for an unveiling or to attend a car show, we state at the end of the article that the manufacturer paid for the trip.

We are transparent about this, almost to a fault.

More: Behind the wheel of the best – this year’s TestFest winners

The policy was initiated by the late Dennis Morgan, the founder of Wheels, to deflect suggestions of conflicts-of-interest. “We could not do what we do without the assistance of the auto manufacturers,” Morgan said.

“We have to tell our readers.”

In fact, with the exception of Consumer Reports magazine, most media — newspapers, automotive websites, magazines — are dependent on the manufacturers, although many won’t admit it.

Only recently did one of Canada’s national newspapers — the original one — start to publish a paragraph acknowledging this reality. Rarely do you find this admission anywhere else.

The reason, of course, is that none of us (except for the previously mentioned Consumer Reports) can afford to buy the cars, motorcycles or light trucks in order to review them. We have to partner with the automakers in order to do our job.

There are those who will say that this arrangement automatically compromises the reviews we publish, which is true to a point: if Wheels writers trashed just about every vehicle they tested, I think it’s fair to say we wouldn’t have as much cooperation from the automakers as we do.

But automakers are like classical musicians: they want to be reviewed and they are not averse to criticism. And Wheels writers never pull their punches. If there’s something wrong with a vehicle, they will say so and the manufacturers appreciate it. But with the bad always comes good, and our correspondents include that in their reviews too.

I can say with pride that the men and women who write for us are the best in the business. Many of them were in Niagara-on-the-Lake this week participating in the annual Automobile Journalists Association of Canada TestFest, in which members drive and evaluate 2013-model-year cars on sale in Canada.

The best in 11 categories were chosen (click here for the winners) and the 2013 Canadian Car of the Year and the Utility Vehicle of the Year selected. The last two winners won’t be announced until the Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto next February.

As is the case with individual journalists and publications, the cars entered in the TestFest were provided by the manufacturers. In fact, they paid $7, 900 per car for the privilege of having the vehicle judged. The tests were conducted in a manner that encouraged fairness: journalists assigned to a category drove all the vehicles along the same route and under the same conditions and filled out a secret ballot. The scores on the ballots were then tabulated by Canadian accounting firm KPMG and they determined the winners.

Toronto Star Wheels is an AJAC-oriented publication. We like the way TestFest is organized as well as the methodology employed. It’s not foolproof, but it’s about as close as you can get to impartiality.

In recent years, other auto-writer groups have issued “best of” lists and sometimes they were published in Wheels. That won’t happen any more, for several reasons.

First, the potential for confusion in the marketplace increases exponentially with the number of lists published.

Second, and most important, the AJAC results have more legitimacy than a discussion leading to consensus, usually done over dinner that is sometimes arranged by an automaker, which is the way some of those other organizations operate.

There is only one Canadian Car of the Year and one Utility Vehicle of the Year and they are selected by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.

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