2011 World Car Awards: How close it was

On Thursday the 21st of April, the seventh annual World Car Awards were given out in a ceremony at the New York International Auto Show that was duly covered by Autoblog.

Full disclosure: I, Matt Davis, European Editor of this online obsession Autoblog, am both a co-founder and co-chair of the World Car Awards, and I intend to shamelessly soapbox herein about the WCAs, at least until the bosses toss me out on the sidewalk.

The WCAs comprise four awards: World Green Car, World Car Design, World Performance Car, and overall World Car of the Year – known as the WCotY. There is no other widely known award even remotely like this, as all four take into account truly global cars from every region of the world. The overall WCotY, in particular, pits cars of every type from every make on the globe, some of which may not be available in the English-speaking world, against one another and, in the end, we 66 international jurors shake out a winner, two runners-up, and the rest.

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This year's Green winner was the Chevrolet Volt, Design went to the Aston Martin Rapide, Performance to the Ferrari 458 Italia, and overall WCotY 2011 to the Nissan Leaf.

Aston Martin Rapide
2011 Chevrolet VoltFerrari 458 Italia

Our panel of five design experts plucked from all major markets winnowed Design candidates down to the victorious Rapide with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Ferrari 458 Italia as close followers. The Green award guided by three international green tech experts representing North America, Europe, and Asia, went to the Chevrolet Volt over the BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics Edition and Nissan Leaf. For both Green and Design, we ease the "on sale on at least two continents by June of the award year" rule a bit since mass-produced smart technology and nice aesthetics wherever they come from are the more important criteria.

The two awards voted on throughout the three voting stages by all 66 jurors, Performance and WCotY, generally cause the biggest hubbub no matter who wins. These two titles are held to our much stricter "world car" definitions. In Performance, the honestly extraordinary Ferrari 458 Italia won with 23 first-place votes and a total of 166 points tallied. Second place in the hot wheels category went to the Mercedes SLS AMG at 145 points, then came the Porsche 911 Turbo at 108 points. These top three were then followed closely by the Porsche 911 GT3 RS, the Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera, and the Audi RS5. The panel of 66 equally represents North America, Europe, and Asia/et al. And we all drive everything, so it can't be said the Italians and Germans conquered all due to badly skewed jury demographics.

Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG in goldPorsche 911 Turbo

For all the variables taken into account for the WCotY, the finish was as tight as it's ever been for any award the WCAs have handed out. The Nissan Leaf had 733.4 points, the BMW 5 Series 730.0, and the Audi A8 had 709.0 total. After these came the Audi A1, Mercedes SLS AMG, and Volvo S60/V60 in fourth through sixth.

North American-built models are given the exact same chance as any others and they are starting to make headway in the rankings. One primary challenge with these NA-built models is that almost all of them with American badges are built for and sold in only North America. Like I say, gradually this is changing. The Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 came in a good third place in Performance in 2009, and in 2010 the Camaro won the Design award while the Buick Regal (a.k.a. Opel/Vauxhall Insignia) showed strongly in the Top Ten candidates for WCotY. And the Cadillac CTS made the Top Ten for WCotY in 2008.

If over half of the public agrees with our winners – just as with anything decided by Congress – that's considered a major achievement. That the fully electric Leaf won makes a lot of sense to me since it is a complete game changer on sale now on two continents and is done seriously, with a very well-built package for carrying five real adults. Nissan-Renault is to be commended for their skillful moxie in this cautious bankrupt world. As the Volt is not on sale anywhere yet but in North America, it was not eligible for WCotY.

2011 Nissan Leaf

That the Volt then won the Green award for some represents a disconnect. Not for me one bit; the Nissan Leaf is hugely ambitious and presents itself extremely well as a pure EV available now on two continents while the Volt, thanks to the range-extending ICE strategy, is a far more practical green approach for today's buyers and will eventually bring green thinking into a lot of driveways not ready to leap quite so far as the Leaf proposes an owner leap.

And 2012 figures to be every bit as debate-provoking. So, set loose your opinions.

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