Another year, and another TAWA event has come and gone. Being a member of the Texas Automotive Writers Association includes us in two annual events, the spring Auto Roundup and the fall Truck Rodeo. During these events we drive a large swath of new vehicles provided by auto manufacturers. And at the end of the event we, very democratically, vote for our favorites in various categories. Of course, the most attention goes to The Car of Texas, named at the Auto Roundup, and the Truck of Texas, voted for at the Truck Rodeo.
In my first year attending the Roundup and Rodeo I was very excited – and a bit apprehensive – in voting for such titles. I was new to this and wanted to really put some thought into what I was voting on. During the first few years I attended, it was emphasized that the Car or Truck of Texas wasn’t just the most expensive, shiny, or fun vehicle you drove that day, but the car or truck you’d recommend to the average Texas consumer. Our word as automotive journalists (or enthusiasts masquerading as journalists) is based on the advice we give to consumers, so I always set a high bar and give a lot of thought before recommending vehicles to people.
This brings me to our event categories and voting, and eventually the winners of these awards. We at txGarage have been dissatisfied with these results so much in the past that we took it upon ourselves to name our own car, truck, and SUV of the Year.
Let me start off with the events themselves. These events are great! Where else do you get the opportunity to spend some time in most of the new vehicles in a category, back-to-back while pushing them to their limits? The events take a lot of orchestrating by the TAWA board and manufacturers, and none of that effort is lost on me. I always enjoy myself at these events and am in no way dissing the people that work so hard to put them on.
One of my biggest areas of frustration comes in the form of categories and voting. Let’s start by looking at the categories for the Auto Roundup. Besides Car of Texas and Family Car of Texas you also get Sub-Compact Car of Texas, Compact Car of Texas, Full-Size Car of Texas, Full-Size Luxury Car of Texas, Green Vehicle of Texas, Mid-Size Car of Texas, Minivan of Texas, Performance Compact Car of Texas, Performance Coupe of Texas, Performance Sedan of Texas, Performance Utility of Texas, Activity Vehicle of Texas, and Supercar of Texas. That’s a lot of categories (which I don’t inherently have a problem with), but they do get a bit confusing. Take (please!) for example the Activity Vehicle category. When I think activity vehicle, I’m thinking Toyota RAV4, Subaru Crosstrek, Mazda CX-3 or CX-5. What I’m not thinking is large, 3-row SUVs like the Infiniti QX80. And jumping ahead here (spoiler alert), the QX80 won in this category. I’m not taking anything away from the QX80; if you saw my review you’ll know it wasn’t my favorite vehicle, but if you read David’s review he quite liked it. That’s not really the point I’m making here. My point is that it just seems out of place.
For another example, take a look at the Supercar category. Now I know it takes a lot of teeth pulling to get decent vehicles to show up at these events and I get it, we’re never going to get a large number of supercars to really fill this category out. This year, we had the Mercedes-Benz GT R, a truly great vehicle. The other, and only other, vehicle in this category was the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. Again, if you watched my video review of the Trackhawk I absolutely love that vehicle, but to put it in a supercar category alongside the Mercedes GT R? It just doesn’t make sense to me, and from talking with some of you guys, our readers, it doesn’t make much sense to you, either.
To add to the confusion, while you have the Trackhawk being listed as a supercar, you also have a Performance Utility category as well, where the Trackhawk would have easily dominated. One problem though – another contender in that category was the Dodge Durango SRT, which could have split votes with the Trackhawk and could have made it harder for either to have the win. Not that the Durango won that category anyway, but the title still went to FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) with the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio.
There are many other examples I could throw in, but let’s move on to the voting. In the six years I’ve been attending these events the voting has dramatically changed, and for the best. We have electronic voting that’s able to give immediate results, so we know the winners the second the event is over. Again, the TAWA board has done some great work making it easy for us reviewing the vehicles and more informative for manufactures who’ve entered vehicles into our events.
The way our voting goes is like this: We go category by category, rating vehicles on things like value, personal appeal, performance, interior, and exterior. We rate each option on a scale of worst in class to best in class. Then an algorithm takes over, one we don’t really know much about, and concludes in a winner. This is how we get winners in categories like Compact Car or Full-Size Car of Texas and, for the most part, I think this works out well for those categories. If I have issues there, it usually boils down to the categories seeming to be structured badly. Like anything else though, you can game the system if you have a clear favorite and you don’t care about actually rating the vehicles based on the options presented. Also, again, we don’t know what the algorithm looks like and what it gives more weight to in voting.
Categories like Car of Texas, Family Car of Texas, Truck of Texas and so forth have a more democratic process. Here you’re given a list of all the vehicles participating and made to choose one. During the voting there’s no clear instructions on how we’re supposed to be rating these categories – we just pick. It’s this process that I have more of a problem with overall, and think it leads to much of my issues with the results that come out of these events.
I think Car or Truck of Texas should take a bit more thought, effort, and consensus among the members. I’d love to see something more like a debate or straw-poll that you see in political primaries. Pick a vehicle you think should win and stand in a corner with others who liked that vehicle. Then talk, debate, and try to convince others in the room why your choice is correct. After each group is able to express their points the members should regroup based on if they were swayed by anyone’s opinion. This should continue till one vehicle has a majority of the room. Not only would this allow more members to understand the arguments for a specific winner, I think it would make our outright winners better choices for what the title deserves.
To wrap it up, I wanted to reiterate here that I do like attending these events and enjoy chatting with all the people involved, and I know the people that make it all happen work extremely hard to do so. I don’t have all the answers here, and I don’t even have all the information on how these things run behind the scenes, I do know, however, that all too often I’m left scratching my head when seeing the results from these events, and have a hard time putting the txGarage name behind them. I’d love to hear some of our reader feedback on this. And if there are other writers out there that attend similar events where you do it differently, I’d love to hear about that as well. Leave us some feedback down in the comments or on our social media pages, and we’ll try to further this discussion there.