As autumn ushers in the traditional start of the new automotive model year, it also kicks off speculation and preparations for the international array of Car of the Year awards. Among the first and most important of these is the <A HREF="http://www.northamericancaroftheyear.org">North American Car of the Year</A> (and, of course, its Truck of the Year counterpart). Its <A HREF="http://www.northamericancaroftheyear.org/jurors.html">48 jurors</A> started by evaluating 28 cars and 18 truck/utilities that were deemed new enough to be eligible. Then, on Monday 30 September, the jury narrowed this down to a dozen vehicles in each group and, the next day, we first saw the so-called "short list" of semi-finalists via one of the jurors, <A HREF="http://www.autoblog.com/2013/10/01/2014-north-american-car-and-truck-utility-of-the-year-award-short-list/">Autoblog's Chris Paukert</A>.
We are pleased to announce that the new 3rd-generation Lexus IS is one of the 12 vehicles on the North American Car of the Year short list. But will it be popular and well-liked enough to survive the next round of voting, which will narrow the NACOTY field down to 3 finalists on Tuesday 10 December? We'd certainly be ecstatic if it did, but, frankly, remain skeptical. The new C7 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is certainly a shoo-in for one of the 3 finalist slots (and, this author believes, the favorite to win the 2014 North American Car of the Year crown). As for the other 2 slots, yours truly suspects that the Jaguar F-Type and one of the Mazdas (3 or 6) may edge out the Lexus IS as a finalist, not to mention that pro-American sentiment combined with mostly positive reviews for the new Chevrolet Impala and Cadillac CTS may be a factor as well. The winners will be revealed on the first day of press conferences at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday 13 January 2014.
No worries, though, for there are a number of other worldwide awards that the new Lexus IS may score.
The other major international Car of the Year awards
Besides the North American Car of the Year award, other major regional counterparts include the European, World and International COTY awards, as well as the Middle East Motor Awards. The <A HREF="http://www.caroftheyear.org/">European Car of the Year</A> award, founded in 1964 by a collective of automobile magazines from different European countries, is the granddaddy of the regional COTY awards and, as such, serves as the pattern that its later North American counterpart followed. For its 2014 iteration, there is currently a <A HREF="http://www.caroftheyear.org/candidates/2014_1/coty">provisional list</A> (or "long list") of 31 cars, which includes the Lexus IS. A final version of this provisional or long list will be issued at some point in November 2013 (likely to verify that all vehicles on it meet the rule calling for sales before year’s end in 5 or more European markets, with the prospect of at least 5000 foreseeable annual sales). By mid-December 2013, this will be narrowed down to a short list of 7 nominees (or finalists), with a single winner to be announced on the eve of the Geneva Motor Show on Monday 3 March 2014 (quite apropos given its location in neutral Switzerland and status as the Old Continent's sole remaining A-list annual motor show). But if you think running against the new Corvette in North America is tough, among the Lexus IS's strongest European COTY rivals are the BMW i3, Maserati Ghibli, the new-generation Mercedes S-Class and Porsche Cayman, and the Tesla Model S.
2005 saw the launch of the <A HREF="http://www.wcoty.com/web/">World Car Awards</A>. After crowning the Audi A6 as its initial single winner at that year's Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto, the awards shifted gears as of 2006, with four individual awards (for World Car of the Year, World Performance Car, World Green Car and World Car Design of the Year) handed out at the New York International Auto Show. We should note that, in 2006, the then-new 2nd-generation Lexus IS made the "short list" of 11 semi-finalists for World Car of the Year, but was beaten out as a finalist by the E90 BMW 3-Series, 3rd-gen (NC) Mazda MX-5 and Porsche Cayman S, with the BMW taking the award. Lexus' revenge, however, came in 2007, when the 4th-gen Lexus LS 460 was proclaimed World Car of the Year. The World Car Awards <A HREF="http://www.wcoty.com/web/2014_timeline.asp">2014 timeline</A> has yet to be announced, except to say that the top 3 finalists in each category will be announced in early March 2014 at the Geneva International Motor Show and the 4 overall winners, as mentioned earlier, crowned in New York on Wednesday 16 or Thursday 17 April 2014.
The grandiosely-named <A HREF="http://www.roadandtravel.com/awards/awardspast/whatareicotyawards.htm">International Car of the Year Awards</A> are, in fact, nothing more than prizes handed out by a single U.S.-based website, Road & Travel Magazine. The <A HREF="http://www.roadandtravel.com/awards/awardspast/winnerspast.htm">number of actual awards handed out by this organization</A> is in a constant state of flux, from as many as 10 to as few as 4, depending, it seems, on the state of the economy and the whims of its organizers. Per <A HREF="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_%26_Travel_Magazine">Wikipedia</A>, these prizes are handed out in Detroit at the onset of press week for the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) and televised by the local CBS affiliate, WWJ-TV on the show's opening weekend.
The <A HREF="http://www.middleeastmotorawards.com/default.htm">Middle East Motor Awards (MEMA)</A> are a relative newcomer on the scene, having first been awarded in 2010. It includes <A HREF="http://www.middleeastmotorawards.com/award_categories.html">a mind-boggling 18 categories</A> for everything from small sedans to crossovers to SUVs to hot hatches to supercars. <A HREF="http://www.middleeastmotorawards.com/nomination_process.html">Rules for 2013</A> called for nomination scorecards to be submitted by 25 May 2013, a scant 9 days after the 3rd-gen Lexus IS went on sale in Japan. Thus, we strongly suspect that it won't be until the 2014 awards that we'll see a Lexus IS in the running. Fear not, Lexus fans, for the marque is still well represented, since the ES 350, LS 460 and LS 460 F Sport are among the 3 finalists in the <A HREF="http://www.middleeastmotorawards.com/Nominated_Cars/BExecutive_Sedan.html">Executive Sedan</A>, <A HREF="http://www.middleeastmotorawards.com/Nominated_Cars/BLuxury_Sedan.html">Luxury Sedan</A> and <A HREF="http://www.middleeastmotorawards.com/Nominated_Cars/BLuxury_Performance_Sedan.html">Luxury Performance Sedan</A> categories, respectively. You won't have to wait long for the results, either, since they'll be announced on Tuesday 29 October 2013.
The auto show/Car of the Year awards connection
You've probably noticed that most of these awards are handed out during major auto show press conferences, but that still leaves a number of annual auto shows and Car of the Year awards unaccounted for. Moving chronologically, the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show will host the announcement of <A HREF="http://greencarjournal.com/">Green Car Journal</A>'s Green Car of the Year on Thursday 21 November 2013. Given its U.S. focus, the Lexus IS 300h definitely did not make the cut as one of the <A HREF="http://www.autoblog.com/2013/10/17/2014-green-car-of-the-year-finalists-announced/">5 finalists</A>, which do include the <A HREF="http://pressroom.toyota.com/releases/toyota+corolla+nominated+green+car+of+the+year.htm">2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco</A>.
Beyond Detroit and its North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), the next major stop on the auto show circuit is Chicago, whose Thursday 6 and Friday 7 February 2014 press conferences include TV show <A HREF="http://www.motorweek.org/reviews/drivers_choice_awards/#/">MotorWeek's Drivers' Choice Awards</A>. Among its 14 awards, the Lexus IS is a possibility for Best Sports Sedan and, of course, the overall Best of the Year.
What about the national awards?
In the Lexus IS's native Japan, there are two major Car of the Year possibilities. The older <A HREF="http://www.jcoty.org/">Car of the Year Japan</A> was established in 1980, and has seen a single Lexus-badged winner, the LS 430 in 2006-2007. A number of Toyota-badged Lexus equivalents have won, however, including the Toyota Altezza iteration of the first Lexus IS in 1998–1999. The 2013-2014 award is open to any passenger car that has sold a minimum of 500 units in Japan in the period from 1 November 2012 to 31 October 2013. A <A HREF="http://www.jcoty.org/nominated/">"nominated" page</A> informs us that the Lexus IS is in the running for the "domestic" Car of the Year Japan (imports are eligible for a separate Japan Import Car of the Year award). Last year, the JCOTY was announced on 29 November. Although moving it up a week or so this year to coincide with the Wednesday 20 and Thursday 21 November 2013 press days at the Tokyo Motor Show sounds like a natural, the <A HREF="http://www.tokyo-motorshow.com/en/press/pdf/PressBriefing_E1007.pdf">press briefing schedule</A> makes no mention of a Car of the Year announcement.
In 1992, the non-profit Automotive Researchers' and Journalists' Conference of Japan, (also known as RJC) launched a separate <A HREF="http://www.npo-rjc.jp/">RJC Car of the Year</A> series of awards. Besides domestic and import car of the year awards, the RJC also awards a Technology of the Year prize and has, in the past, bestowed Special Awards and, until 2007, a Person of the Year award. (Why not bring that tradition back and award it to the richly-deserving Akio Toyoda?) The RJC website reveals next-to-nothing on the 2014 nominees, but we deduce that the 2014 RJC Car of the Year will be announced around mid-November 2013.
In contrast to the paucity of information above, the <A HREF="http://www.ajac.ca/web/ccoty/">AJAC (Automobile Journalists Association of Canada) Canadian Car of the Year</A> website is exhaustively detailed regarding the selection process. In August, nominees in a dozen individual categories are announced. This year, the <A HREF="http://www.ajac.ca/web/ccoty/eligible.asp?cat=162">Luxury Car (under $50k) category</A> includes the 2014 Lexus IS 350 RWD as one of 5 finalists. This is followed by a <A HREF="http://www.ajac.ca/web/ccoty/testfest.asp">TestFest</A> that just took place from Monday 21 to Friday 25 October 2013 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, where all eligible members of AJAC (including Stephen Elmer, Sami Haj Assaad, Michael Schlee, Luke Vandezande and Colum Wood from our Canadian AutoGuide overlords) drive the nominated vehicles. Around November/December 2013, the individual category winners are announced (and, frankly, we're optimistic about the new IS 350's chances here). The overall Canadian Car of the Year (and companion Canadian Truck of the Year) will be announced during the first media day of the Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto on Wednesday 12 February 2014. The AJAC also awards Best New Design and Best New Technology prizes. The latter was won by the 2nd-gen Lexus IS 350 back in 2006 for, presumably, its pioneering use of dual direct + port fuel injection.
Germany's <A HREF="http://www.goldensteeringwheel.com/award/">Golden Steering Wheel</A> (Das Goldene Lenkrad) is presented jointly by the country's largest Sunday newspaper Bild am Sonntag and their affiliated Auto Bild car magazine. Among its <A HREF="http://www.goldensteeringwheel.com/nominees/compact-cars/">7 finalists in the Middle Class category</A> is the new Lexus IS, although we can't help but chuckle at the notion that it is running against the far more downmarket Toyota Corolla. Testing to determine the class winners took place in late September, and awards will be given on Tuesday 12 November 2013. In 2007, the 2nd-gen Lexus IS was awarded the Golden Steering Wheel in the Luxury category, which for 2013 is labeled Upper/Luxury and is populated by Bentley, Maserati, the Mercedes S-Class and Tesla Model S.
Ireland's Irish Motoring Writers' Association (IMWA) has hosted the annual Continental Irish Car of the Year contest since 1978. For 2014, the Lexus IS was part of the <A HREF="http://www.autotrade.ie/index.php/field-of-51-cars-compete-for-2014-continental-irish-car-of-the-year-title/10824">original 51-car "long list"</A>. Alas, as this was dwindled down to a <A HREF="http://www.rev.ie/shortlist-announced-for-continental-irish-car-of-the-year-2014/">16-car "short list" announced on Thursday 24 October 2013</A>, we are sad to report that the Lexus IS is no longer in the running. The IMWA Continental Irish Car of the Year will be announced on Thursday 21 November 2013.
Although there are probably more of these national COTY awards, that's pretty much it according to <A HREF="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Car_of_the_Year">Wikipedia</A>. There remains, though, another large and significant group of awards...
The individual magazine and publication awards
The absolute great-granddaddy of Car of the Year awards is the U.S.'s Motor Trend magazine, starting in 1949. Unlike other COTY awards, expect MT to simply announce the <A HREF="http://www.motortrend.com/oftheyear/car/1301_2013_motor_trend_car_of_the_year_contenders_and_finalists/">contenders, finalists and winner</A> in one go, around mid-November 2013, a couple of weeks ahead of the release of the January 2014 print edition. Given its single-winner focus, yours truly is again predicting a C7 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray victory.
In contrast Car and Driver magazine has, since 1983, selected a 10Best list, with eligibility limited to the previous year's winners and all-new or substantially changed vehicles priced no higher than 2.5 times the average car price for that year and made available for testing by C/D. Although there are no firm rules that force just one vehicle per segment, we can't help but wonder if the Lexus IS 350's decisive victory over the latest F30 BMW 335i in <A HREF="http://www.caranddriver.com/comparisons/habemus-papem-2013-bmw-335i-m-sport-vs-2013-cadillac-ats-36-2014-lexus-is350-f-sport-comparison-test">a recent C/D comparison test</A> may, perhaps, help end the BMW 3-Series' uninterrupted 22-year appearance on the list. All will be revealed in early December 2013.
<A HREF="http://www.automobilemag.com/features/awards/">Automobile</A> magazine's approach is an "all-of-the above" grab-bag of a single Automobile of the Year, awards for Design of the Year, Man of the Year and Technology of the Year, as well as 10 individual All-Stars roughly analogous to Car and Driver's 10Best. A Friday 1 November 2013 announcement is likely.
A newcomer on the automotive awards scene is the <A HREF="http://autos.yahoo.com/blogs/motoramic/2014-yahoo-autos-car-chevrolet-corvette-stingray-185859647.html">Yahoo! Autos Car of the Year</A>, as presented on its Motoramic blog. Although the Lexus IS 350 F Sport was one of the 16 contenders for this honor, on Thursday 24 October 2013, the site's COTY title was awarded to the new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, while the Lexus IS was also beaten for Best Luxury Car honors by the new BMW 4-Series coupe.
Given the vast gulf between the Lexus IS 300h hybrid that is most dominant in the United Kingdom and the hardcore, no-holds-barred, balls-out enthusiast leanings of such publications as evo magazine and Top Gear (not to mention Jeremy Clarkson's anti-Lexus biases bar the LFA), don't expect any IS awards from there (although Top Gear did award the 2nd-gen Lexus IS an Executive Car of the Year title back in 2006). Potentially more sympathetic are <A HREF="http://www.autoexpress.co.uk/car-news/65121/britains-best-new-cars-new-car-awards-2013">Auto Express' New Car Awards</A>, which should be announced on or about 31 July 2014. Possibilities for the Lexus IS among the 18 class awards and 8 Special Awards include Best Compact Executive Car, Design Award, Green Award (for the IS 300h), Safety Award, the customer satisfaction-oriented <A HREF="http://www.autoexpress.co.uk/lexus/65168/lexus">Driver Power Award</A> (which the Lexus brand has won 8 times in the past 12 years) and, of course, the overall 2014 Car of the Year.
Another United Kingdom possibility is the <A HREF="http://www.whatcar.com/awards/index.html">What Car? Car of the Year Awards</A>. With something of a Consumer Reports-style bent, it not only names a single overall COTY winner, but also has a Best Executive Car category where it'll be interesting to see if the Lexus IS 300h can defeat the current BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics as the title holder. The IS 300h could also be a contender for the Ultra-low-carbon award. Winners will be announced on Wednesday 8 January 2014.
Finally, a trip Down Under brings us two more possibilities. <A HREF="http://motoring.ninemsn.com/cars/news/8580246/wheels-car-of-the-year-2012">Wheels</A> is Australia's long-running monthly car magazine which some have likened to Britain's Car in spirit and tone. They take the Motor Trend approach and only crown a single winner, after whittling down the full field first to 10, then further to 5. Expect an announcement around mid-December 2013. Will the new Lexus IS be one of those finalists, as its 2nd-gen predecessor was back in 2006?
For all its status as the later Australian upstart, <A HREF="http://www.carsguide.com.au/site/caroftheyear/">CarsGuide.com.au</A>'s Car of the Year awards are a virtual carbon copy of Wheels' in format (although their semi-final 10 are reduced to a final four, not 5), and are also announced in mid-December 2013. In fact, both publications proclaimed the same winners (the Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86 twins) last year. One unique twist CarsGuide offers is additional <A HREF="http://www.carsguide.com.au/caroftheyear/great_minds_think_alike">People's Choice</A> awards in a number of categories, including Best Overall and Best Sports/Luxury.
Lest you think the 3rd-gen Lexus IS's chances are slim in the 2013-14 Car of the Year sweepstakes, fear not, for it has already garnered one such title under its belt. Stay tuned for an upcoming story with all the details...