According to the Web site Just-Auto.com, imports dominated as automotive journalists selected the Mini Cooper and Cooper S as the North American Car of the Year and the Volvo XC 90 as the North American Truck of the Year.
The site says the awards honor vehicles that set new standards or will become benchmarks in their classes. Jurors evaluate them based on criteria including innovation, design, handling, safety and value for the dollar.
According to Just-Auto.com, the awards are unique because instead of being given by a single publication, radio or television show they are given by 49, full-time automotive journalists from the United States and Canada representing magazines, newspapers as well as radio and television programs. Many of those on the jury have covered the car industry for decades and evaluate 50 to 100 new vehicles a year.
The jurors voted in December and the winners were announced at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) press preview in Detroit. While announced at the international motor show, the awards are independent and the NAIAS is not otherwise involved, according to the site.
To be eligible, a vehicle must be "substantially new." Cars must have sales reasonably expected to exceed 5,000 a year and sales of trucks – including luxury SUVs like the winning Volvo -- must exceed 2,000 a year.
Candidates for the 2003 North American Car of the Year were almost all import brands - the BMW 7-Series, Honda Accord, Honda Civic Hybrid, Infiniti G35, Mazda6, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Mini Cooper and Cooper S, Nissan 350Z, Pontiac Vibe (based on a Toyota), Saab 9-3, Saturn Ion and Toyota Matrix.
Candidates for the North American Truck of the Year were the Ford Expedition, Honda Element, Honda Pilot, Hummer H2, Kia Sorento, Land Rover Range Rover, Lexus GX 470, Lincoln Aviator, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Murano, Subaru Baja, Toyota 4Runner and Volvo XC90.
The winners last year were the Nissan Altima and the Chevrolet Trailblazer. The awards were first given in 1994 and were patterned after the Car of the Year award given in Europe, according to Just-Auto.com.