NACTOY nominees: SUVS and EVs galore, small pickups, stylish sedans

Let the awards season commence. The North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year (NACTOY) has released its list of 38 cars, trucks and SUVs eligible for its 2022 awards. The roll call boasts a diverse range of vehicles from U.S., European and Asian manufacturers — including three battery-powered startups.

The list representing industry trends toward utes and small pickups, as well as electric vehicles as automakers test the waters for battery power. Twenty-five percent of entries are all-electric vehicles though EV sales make up just 2% market share. Automakers are counting on huge federal subsidies to goose sales this year, including a Senate proposal of £12,500 per car.

Eight of the NACTOY entries are pickup trucks, a jump from previous years as automakers like Ford and Hyundai see opportunity in small pickups, and luxury EV makers like Plymouth-based startup Rivian and GMC bank target well-to-do buyers. The U.S. consumer market is the world’s richest and 70% of the entries are foreign models. Coming off a year when the COVID pandemic depressed sales by 16%, the entry list indicates automakers are bullish about consumer demand.

“Utilities of all types and sizes continue as the largest and most popular vehicle category, so the large number of them comes as no surprise,” NACTOY President Gary Witzenburg said in a statement. “However, the number of eligible pickups is the most we’ve seen in several years, reflecting trends toward smaller pickups and electrics.” Leading the pickup charge is Ford with a refresh of its fire-breathing F-150 Raptor super-truck (part of an F-series lineup that is America’s best-selling nameplate) and small, SUV-based Maverick pickup. Sharing a chassis with the Ford Escape SUV, Maverick joins the Hyundai Santa Cruz as a segment-busting small truck aimed at urban buyers.

The GMC Hummer, Rivian R1T and Tesla Cybertruck represent the cutting edge of the EV market as manufacturers see big potential for electrics among upscale truck buyers. In 2020, less than 2% of mainstream vehicle sales were EVs, yet electric made up a healthy 19% of luxury sales. Leading that charge is Tesla, which accounts for 75% of EV sales including its hot Model 3 sedan/Model Y SUV.

Typical of Tesla’s brand, the Cybertruck sports a radical, spare design with stainless-steel exterior and single-screen interior. Cybertruck promises ferocious, supercar-like acceleration — as do its Hummer and R1T competition. SUVs now make up a whopping 70% of non-pickup sales as customers prefer the high-riding, hatchback body style.

Ford is the favorite with its highly anticipated, off-road Bronco SUV. Aimed squarely at the popular Jeep Wrangler, the ladder frame-based dirt-kicker offers similar, open-air fun with a retro-styled design. Jeep promises to be a formidable force with an all-new version of its Jeep Grand Cherokee (including new three-row and plugin versions) and a revival of its Wagoneer nameplate as a pickup-based, three-row mega-ute.

Other entries of note are new EVs from Mazda (the MX-30) and VW (the ID.4). Though the ID.4 is VW’s only electric entry in the market so far, the German manufacturer has promised, along with General Motors, to be an EV-only maker in just over a decade. The ID.4 will be produced in Tennessee and aims to take advantage of a proposed £174 billion in federal funding for EVs.

GM, too, is hoping that its Bolt EUV utility vehicle will generate interest after the first-gen Bolt EV hatchback failed to live up to hype. Other contenders include the dashing Hyundai Tucson and Genesis GV70 — the latter from Hyundai’s stylish, affordable luxury brand. Traditional nameplates like the Mitsubishi Outlander and Nissan Pathfinder also boast modern, high-tech entries.

Sedans may be a dwindling segment of the market, but their stylish designs are still in demand, both by entry-level customers and by manufacturers that want to make a design statement. California startup automaker Lucid is debuting its first Air EV. The sedan is one of the most head-turning designs on the market.

Other sedan stunners include the Karma GS-6 (the first car sold in the U.S. by Chinese auto-parts supplier Wanxiang. Production is in California), Maserati MC20 (the brand’s new, mid-engine supercar) and Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing (stuffed with a powerful V-8 making over 600 horsepower). The favorites, however, will be two classic, compact nameplates: the Honda Civic and VW Golf GTI/Golf R.

Civic is the best-selling retail compact in America, offering affordable fun to entry-level buyers. And, though VW is withdrawing its standard Golf from the U.S. market, the GTI lives on as the benchmark for affordable, performance hatchbacks. To be eligible, the 38 NACTOY entries for the ’22 model year must be substantially new and available for purchase before the end of this year.

Judged by a panel of 50 independent journalists from the U.S. and Canada, the NACTOY awards are among North America’s most prestigious. Jurors will narrow the list with a preliminary vote in September after conducting initial driving evaluations. Then they will convene in Ann Arbor in October for a semi-finalists comparison drive.

Finalists will be announced in November and winners crowned in January. Car of the Year Audi A3

Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing Genesis G70 Honda Civic Sedan

Karma GS-6 plugin Lucid Air EV Maserati MC20

Mercedes-Benz EQS EV Mercedes-Benz S-Class Subaru BRZ

Toyota GR 86 Volkswagen Golf Mk VIII (Golf R/Golf GTI) Truck of the Year

Ford F-150 Raptor Ford Maverick GMC HUMMER EV

Hyundai Santa Cruz Nissan Frontier Rivian R1T EV

Tesla Cybertruck EV Toyota Tundra Utility Vehicle of the Year

Acura MDX Buick Envision Chevrolet Bolt EUV

Ford Bronco Genesis GV70 Hyundai IONIQ 5

Hyundai Tucson (gas/hybrid/plugin) Infiniti QX60 Jeep Grand Cherokee (gas, hybrid, L)

Jeep Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer Kia Carnival Lexus NX

Mazda MX-30 EV Mitsubishi Outlander Nissan Pathfinder

Toyota Corolla Cross VW ID.4 VW Taos

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News.

Find him at [email protected] or Twitter @HenryEPayne.