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Ford Has Two Entries In 2021 NACTOY Awards Program Finals

At last, the committee running the North American Car and Truck Awards program has its finalists. In a surprise, Ford has two entrants. The entries are not where you think they might be -- electric. Instead, Ford's "back to the future" retro SUV, the Bronco, is one vehicle, while the automaker's innovative compact pickup, the Maverick, is the second. Two of the entrants are from manufacturers that didn't exist three years ago, Lucid and Rivian. Photos Courtesy Ford Motor Co.
Posted: November 21, 2021 - 6:23PM
Author: Marc Stern

When the winners of this year's North American Car and Truck Awards announcement happens in a couple of months, we will know several things. First, we'll know whether it will be an electric vehicle sweep. Second, we'll know whether brand-new manufacturers will take a couple of the awards. And, finally, we'll know where the winners will be named (nothing is set in stone just yet).

A Curious Explanation?

Torque News is aware that this explanation may seem a bit curious. However, a couple of vehicles up for honors did not exist a year ago – except as concepts or mules. Mules are test vehicles that run on the roads of the country wearing camo to keep them from being recognized. Most of the time, it works very well. However, enterprising auto journalists have their ways of finding out what is underneath.

This is an interesting year for the NACTOY Awards as electrics could sweep, while two of the automakers didn't exist three years ago.

That said, this year, Ford has been named a finalist in two of the categories. The Ford entries are in the utility and truck categories. They are the Bronco and the compact-sized Maverick pickup.

The Bronco was introduced deep in the months of last year's coronavirus outbreak, while the Maverick appeared last spring. Both represented "new" entrants since this is the first year they have been on sale.

The Bronco was a "back to the future" moment for the Dearborn automaker. First introduced in 1965, the original Bronco was a two-door 4X4 SUV aimed primarily at the "beach culture" of the 1960s. The iconic, slab-sided SUV was a one-row vehicle with seating for two on the seats upfront. The cargo area, behind the seating, could carry surf-boards or other sundry items. The early Bronco competition was the Jeep CJ and the International S5.

Original Bronco Appealed To ‘Beach Crowd’

The Bronco quickly set itself apart as the "beach crowd" quickly picked up on the Bronco. It was part of the beach scene within a year or so of its 1965 intro. By 1969, the Bronco was stretching its legs in the off-road world. The Bronco was the first winner of the inaugural Baja 1000. Running in the desert of Baja California, the racers had to use a trail that was little more than dried river beds and lizard tracks. The Bronco repeated the feat several times, either as a class winner or an outright race victor.

Ford's Bronco stayed in production until the mid-1990s when corporate decisions put it on the back-burner. Ford's Explorer and Expedition (full-sized) SUVs were receiving the automaker's full attention.

You might have thought that when the last Bronco rolled off the line in 1996, that was it. But, there was a "Bronco underground" in the automaker's ranks which actively kept the model in the corporate "mind" for many years. From time to time, there were rumblings that the Bronco was coming back, but they remained just that, rumblings. About a decade ago, the rumblings became louder as mock-ups of a Bronco-style vehicle were proposed, encouraged by those "Bronco underground" members who had moved into senior positions.

Though they were in senior positions, they were never in positions where they could do much more than order mock-ups. It was a situation that continued until about half-a-dozen years ago when the mock-ups appeared on various exhibition stands as "concept" or test mule vehicles. They remained "concepts" until late 2017 when test mules appeared on the roads around Dearborn. Time and time again, the mules were photographed in their camouflage. It seemed that there was more development each time.

Introduction Delayed By Virus

Things were going well until the coronavirus hit the auto industry and intros stopped. This was the situation for the renewed Bronco. It was to have been part of the late 2019 wave of new vehicle intros. However, the planned introductions had to wait. Indeed, the plants slated to build the Bronco were on coronavirus-related production holds as the coronavirus raged through the auto industry.

It was a situation that pushed the introduction of the Bronco brand (one of the automaker's new sub-brands) and the vehicles that made up the brand, the two- and four-door Bronco (full-sized) and the Bronco Sport (mid-sized) into 2020 introductions. Indeed, the Bronco brand was in 2020. However, the pandemic still kept them in its icy grip, keeping the Bronco on hold.

Later in 2020, when things were more normal, the Bronco Sport made its appearance. The Sport was the first Bronco model out of the gate. The Sport was followed by the full-sized two-door and four-door Bronco models. The key differences between the models were easy to spot. The Sport was a uni-body vehicle, while the two- and four-door were body-on-frame versions (traditional pickup-style builds).

Ford's second vehicle in the NACTOY running is the new Maverick. The Maverick is a uni-body truck styled after the Ford F-150 Super Cab pickup (four-door). Like the Hyundai Santa Cruz, the Maverick is a vehicle that defines a market segment in the pickup market. The key to the Maverick is its cost. Its base model's cost is in the low- to mid-$20s, or it is supposed to be. Though the evidence is mainly anecdotal, some dealers are adding a markup of several thousand dollars to the cost of the small Ford pickup. The Maverick features a full-sized, four-door cab.

Maverick Proving To be Popular

The Maverick should prove to be a popular vehicle. In the first months it has been on sale it has set new marks for sales.

Meantime, as noted, Hyundai has a pair of vehicles up for NACTOY honors. The North American Car-Truck of the Year award was timed, until the pandemic, for the Detroit International Auto Show. This is the 28th year for this awards program. Until two years ago, the show was concomitant with Detroit's North American Auto Show. The Detroit show has been on hold since 2019.

Hyundai has a pair of vehicles in the running as well, one an electric. The Ioniq 5 is the electric, while the Santa Cruz pickup is a finalist for Truck of the Year.

This year there are three electrics in the running, two from startups Rivian and Lucid. The other electric is, as noted, from Hyundai. If the entrants from Lucid or Rivian were to win, they would be first-time winners.

Rivian, which had planned to build an electric with its partner, Ford, is now going it alone as Ford has determined that it can build electrics on its own.

Ford Decides To Go It Alone

There is little doubt that Ford has made the right decision for itself as it now has the Mustang Mach-E out there, setting excellent sales numbers, while it has the upcoming Ford F-150 Lightning headed for 2022 production. At the moment, it has about 100,000 reservations for the F-150 Lightning on the books. Most of the reservations are of the "conquest" variety, which means first-time Ford customers. And Ford has the E-Transit Van upcoming in 2022.

Getting back to the NACTOY program, the winners will have been determined by a panel of 50 auto journalists. The journos spent three days putting the finalists through their paces. In total, the panel drove 23 vehicles before they decided on the nine vehicles that will be considered finalists. The finalists included two sedans, a hatchback, three pickups, three crossovers. Interestingly, one finalist in each category is electric. The judges spent three days putting the vehicles through their paces.

The judges drove eight cars, six pickups, and nine utility vehicles on sale by the end of the year. As you might expect, not all the vehicles tested were finalists. The vehicles not chosen included the GMC Hummer EV pickup, the Jeep Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer, and the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing, according to a piece in Automotive News.

This week, Gary Witzenburg, NACTOY president, told Automotive News that the "nine vehicles represent an unusually excellent and diverse group of finalists. These vehicles showcase the automotive industry's current diversification from new OEMs to vehicles that have created fresh segments in their categories. This year's finalists also illustrate how many more electric vehicles are becoming available to customers across multiple vehicle types."

NACTOY Award Finalists

The finalists include:

  • Car of the Year: Honda Civic, Lucid Air and Volkswagen Golf Mk VIII (Golf R/Golf GTI).
  • Truck of the Year: Ford Maverick, Hyundai Santa Cruz and Rivian R1T
  • Utility Vehicle of the Year: Ford Bronco, Genesis GV70 and Hyundai Ioniq 5

Marc Stern has been an automotive writer since 1971 when an otherwise normal news editor said, "You're our new car editor," and dumped about 27 pounds of auto stuff on my desk. I was in heaven as I have been a gearhead from my early days. As a teen, I spent the usual number of misspent hours hanging out at gas stations Shell and Texaco (a big thing in my youth) and working on cars. From there on, it was a straight line to my first column for the paper, "You Auto Know," an enterprise that I handled faithfully for 32 years. Not many people know that I also handled computer documentation for a good part of my living while writing YAN. My best writing, though, was always in cars. My work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, AutoWeek, SuperStock, Trailer Life, Old Cars Weekly, Special Interest Autos, and others. You can follow me on: Twitter or Facebook.