A competition that brings athletes and journalists together
By Nina RussinIn today’s competitive market, a car’s best asset may be the cyclist, skier or triathlete who endorses it. The reason is that automakers can no longer compete solely on the basis of quality.
The situation was quite different twenty years ago, when I first started writing about cars. Shoppers would read up on which models had the most warranty claims or safety recalls, and as much as budgets would permit, buy something that didn’t make the black list.
Today there are very few bad cars. Electronic controls are more reliable than the mechanical parts they replaced, and production lines are closely monitored for quality failure. This isn’t to say that some cars aren’t more reliable than others. But it’s a far cry from the time when mechanical parts would fail on thousands of cars, leaving their owners stranded.
Although automakers know that lifestyle plays a major role in new car sales, they aren’t as savvy about the needs of people with active lifestyles. We started the Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year program eight years ago with two objectives: to recognize the cars and trucks that best meet the needs of people with active lifestyles, and to give the automakers a better understanding of what those of us who run, cycle, swim and so forth need our cars and trucks to do.
Whereas most car of the year competitions focus on various aspects of vehicle performance, we are more concerned with how well the vehicle helps to enhance our performance as athletes. So we evaluate how easy it is to load bicycles into the cargo area, or to clean the upholstery after an especially muddy trail run. We want to know if a sport-utility vehicle designed to go off-road can ford water, and if it can maintain directional control when one or more wheels is off the ground.
As athletes, safety is very important to us. Active lifestyle vehicles have to meet certain criteria, such as having antilock brakes, side curtain airbags, and electronic stability control. Pedestrian safety is also important. A body structure designed to minimize injury to a pedestrian involved in a collision always gets our vote.
The competition started out with two categories: best value and best luxury car. Best value cars are priced under $35,000; while luxury cars and trucks are $35,000 and over. Since the first year, we’ve divided the pool further, separating on and off-road vehicles, and adding family, urban and green car categories.
The family category includes any vehicle with three rows of seating.
Green ALV is open to all types of alternative fuel vehicles, from hybrids and electric cars to clean diesel and biodiesel. We look at fuel economy, sustainability, and emissions, as well as the same criteria we use to evaluate other active lifestyle vehicles.
The urban category includes vehicles priced at or below $20,000, that meet the needs of people with active lifestyles. As the name suggests buyers often reside in urban areas, where they are limited to smaller cars, but need the capability to carry large cargo.
The Judging Process
Thirteen automotive jurors evaluate the field of entries: our jurors include men and women aged twenty-five to eighty-three. Each juror brings to the table a special area of expertise within the automotive field. Many are also athletes. We have among our ranks two runners, two cyclists, an adventure racer, a skier, and three competitive race car drivers.
Unlike some competitions, there is no judging template for ALV. We ask each of the jurors to bring his or her individual perspective to the table. As a result, we have a lot of tie breakers, but that’s what makes this competition more interesting.
Elite and area athletes get an opportunity to drive and vote on the entries as well, at a one-day program in August. This year our ride-and-drive event moves to Local Motors in Phoenix, Arizona. The move give us access to an off-road course for the first time, while providing a easily accessible location from all parts of the US.
Over the past seven years, our athlete evaluators have included elite runners and triathletes, professional football players, surfers, cyclists, beach volleyball players and adventure racers.
Re-visit the Carspondent web site for updates on this year’s Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year competition.