There's no better way to Rev up 2010 than with some BIG, juicy awards.
When Automobile Magazine gathers staff, contributors, and a mess of great cars together to select our Automobile of the Year, we can't help but plan for trouble. After all, we've just come to your (unnamed) town looking to spend quality time on your back roads, and we're not exactly expecting the Welcome Wagon. But this year, no one had to hide the women and children; we rented a racetrack. We still had to move our high-speed convoy from Ann Arbor to GingerMan Raceway on the far west side of Michigan. There, we could safely ply our heavy right feet without danger to our fragile driving records.
It's not every day you can blow through rural Michigan towns with two dozen performance cars on the way to the track and not have a single run-in with the constabulary. But as dawn broke on this fall morning, the moon was only three days out of full round, and cosmic weirdness was still in the air. Luckily, we were wearing a giant cloak of invisibility as we rocketed along, while the locals were the ones caught behaving badly. State police were busy at the overpass of our last freeway exit with a school bus that had, for no visible reason, plowed into the guardrail leading up onto that overpass. (No apparent injuries. Actually, no apparent driver.) As we rumbled through the four-lane center of town, our entourage was passed by an old Saturn Vue going about 95 mph in a 45-mph zone. Two miles down the road, billowing smoke parted to reveal a Ford Taurus engulfed in towering flames. The safety of the track couldn't come soon enough.
After a day of five-lap runs in each car in the dream fleet parked trackside, we convened at Daryl's Downtown in Jackson, Michigan, to hash out the winners. We of course delivered the goods: an Automobile of the Year that we all stand by and ten All-Stars to be revealed next month. At dinner, we also argued long and thoroughly for Man of the Year, Design of the Year, and Technology of the Year. You can read all about the winners inside this issue if you haven't already.
There were no unanimous votes, although our technical editor, Don Sherman, quickly dispatched with all challenges to his choice of Technology of the Year, the lithium-ion battery. Robert Cumberford was more willing to hear about Design of the Year candidates, although an impassioned Ezra Dyer speech in favor of the Chevy Camaro ("It's the most impactful design. People notice! People care!") brought a loud "OMDB!" from our bristling design editor. We looked at him, puzzled. OMDB? "Over my dead body," he sneered. "Which might happen at any time." Oh, snap!
The lovely BMW Z4 roadster and the Nissan Cube of happiness rose up in the ensuing melee, with the Cube catching our fancy just right. Done.
On to the Man of the Year, which should have been a no-brainer. I nominated the car industry's sunniest man, Alan Mulally. The Pied Piper of Dearborn. The Boy Scout of the Universe. The man who came from outside the car industry and showed a tattered and demoralized Ford the way out of the wilderness.
Mulally was no shoo-in. We are journalists - a notoriously crabby, suspicious lot. We love the juicy gossip and wicked undercurrents of our world, the bad behavior and the signs of karmic retribution. Maybe, we argued, it should be Ferdinand Piëch, the puppet master of the Volkswagen empire. A year ago, we thought it was curtains for him as Porsche's Wendelin Wiedeking moved in for the kill, coming this close to wresting control of the entire VW Group. As it turns out, Piëch was playing cosmic chess on a level five times higher than Wiedeking. Porsche crashed and nearly burned in Wiedeking's own death spiral. Juicy! Would it be Piëch, then? Or would it be our man back home in the Motor City? Mulally won the day.
Still, Piëch brings us more cars we love than any other single person, from the sixteen-cylinder Bugatti Veyron to our Automobile of the Year, the simple and simply wonderful VW GTI. And, yes, it had competition, most notably the Camaro, the Audi S4 (another Piëch triumph), the Ford Fusion Hybrid, the BMW 335d, the Jaguar XFR, the Hyundai Genesis coupe, and the controversial Porsche Panamera. Did any of them make the All-Stars cut? Tune in next month.
Writer: Jean Jennings Photo: Christian Charisius/Reuters/Corbis