Editor’s letter

THE FIRST RADIO INTERVIEW HAPPENED LESS THAN 15 MINUTES AFTER I’D SAID THE MAGIC WORDS “…AND THE WHEELS CAR OF THE YEAR IS…” IN FRONT OF OUR ASSEMBLED AUDIENCE, INCLUDING 100 OF THE AUTO INDUSTRY’S TOP EXECUTIVES.

GLENN BUTLER

It would be three days before the media storm abated, and more than a week before the final interview was conducted.

I lost count of the number of Fitzy, Bobsy and Bazza breakfast trios I traded quips with, and of the multiple AM radio jocks who drilled me over COTY’s first electric laureate. The enormous attention surrounding Car of the Year came partly because it is BMW’s first win, but more because it is the first win by a pure electric car.

Yes, the publicity these media interviews generated did translate into magazine sales – we had our best first-week results in three years – that’s kind of the point of doing such interviews.

But it’s not the point of Wheels Car of the Year.

A couple of radio types asked me if Wheels had chosen an electric car just to be controversial, to boost sales. A fair question... Or is it?

Think about that for a moment.

Would Wheels sacrifice 52 years of COTY credibility just to net a few-percent sales bump?

Did our seven judges, some of Australia’s best motoring journalists, trash their professionalism to help Wheels sell a few extra copies?

The answer, of course, is no.

If you know anything of Robinson, Carey, Ponchard and the other COTY judges, you can be sure commercial sensibilities play no part in how they vote.

Hell, even my boss, Wheels publisher and former editor Ged Bulmer, who presided over no fewer than nine COTYs, didn’t learn the result until after I’d counted the votes. In the nearest men’s loo, as is custom.

And that’s entirely as it should be.

Our Car of the Year judging week has evolved over five decades into the longest, toughest and most extensive new-car testing in the country, if not the world. As Robbo said at our award night, “the COTY process delivers the result”.

The winning vehicle is the one that stands out best against our criteria: Efficiency, Function, Safety, Technology and Value. It is an award for excellence, not a popularity contest.

If it was a popularity contest, then the Mazda3 or Toyota Corolla would have dominated COTY for the last decade.

If commercial interests dictated the award, Toyota – Australia’s top-selling brand since 2003 – would have claimed lots more than the single COTY trophy it boasts. And that for a low-volume sports car.

And to those who’ve told us via email and social media the i3’s win is a joke because its limited electric range would not survive their commute, thanks for sharing. We appreciate your passion, respect your opinion and relish the debate.

However, COTY is not a consumer award. It is not intended to help you find your next car. No one car can hope to satisfy the motoring needs of every Australian. That’s why 67 brands offer more than 500 models of all shapes, sizes and abilities.

If you’re looking for what’s the best car for you, look no further than our Gold Star Cars buying guide at WheelsMag.com.au. There you’ll find our top recommendations across 17 major consumer categories.

I’m pleased Wheels Car of the Year has again whacked the hornet’s nest and sparked such lively debate, because we need to be talking about electric cars, and how they fit into our motoring future. Because that future has arrived.

COTY is not a consumer award. It is not intended to help you find your next car

Shock to the coffers

THE Federal Government siphons 38.14c from every litre of petrol, diesel, ethanol and biodiesel purchased by Australian motorists. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, we bought 31.8 billion litres of fuel in 2012.

That’s a $12.1 billion excise windfall for the government.

Fast forward a few years to a time when thousands of urban Australians are running electric cars charged by solar panels on their roofs. How will the taxman clip that ticket?

Now tell me, why isn’t Canberra doing more to encourage sales of hybrid and electric vehicles?