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NACTOY 2021 Winners Announced: The New and the Old

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The big winners of the North Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year (NACTOY) Awards for 2021 were announced last week, and together they represent a microcosm of the changes shaking up the automotive industry at present. We take a look.

2021 Car of the Year: Hyundai Elantra

The heavily redesigned Elantra took top honours in a category that is nowhere near the juggernaut it once, many consumers having departed it, perhaps permanently, for the more practical confines of the SUV format. And yet, the Hyundai’s many qualities are a reflection of the overall excellence of the cars that remain.

For automakers that are not the U.S. Big Three, the new realities of the car segments are that there is opportunity in the fact that the Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Nissan, Kia and Hyundai models that populate it have fewer competitors to fight over the market share that remains. And that market share, though much reduced, is still substantial. Time will tell if the continued commitment of Asian automakers will have constituted a smart bet.

See also: 2021 Hyundai Elantra First Drive: Reaching for the Top

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2021 Hyundai Elantra
Photo: Hyundai
2021 Hyundai Elantra

2021 Utility Vehicle of the Year: Ford Mustang Mach-E

Here we see a near-total break with the past, with the SUV award going to a brand-new all-electric model, the main competition of which is a vehicle made by an independent American automaker. Who, a decade or so ago, could possibly have predicted that in 2021 the top utility model in a market chockful of high-quality SUVs would be an EV?

Yes, it carries the Mustang name and badge, and yes it’s made a by a traditional automaker, but that just highlights the boldness of Ford’s moves as it places its bets on the future. Remember, this is a carmaker that has jettisoned all the cars from its lineup save for one. Again, who could have predicted it all?

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, three-quarters front
Photo: Ford
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, three-quarters front

Truck of the Year: Ford F-150

Not everything has become unrecognizable. The best-selling truck in North America seemingly since the formation of the continent is back, again. Around the industry, the F-150 might no longer be a lock to win top honours in this segment – the 2021 category finalists just announced by the AJAC don’t even include it among the final three –, but NACTOY stuck with the tried, tested and true truck, once again.

Why? Because it determined that Ford found many ways to improve on an already-exceptional truck. Said NACTOY jury member John Voelcker, ““The latest version refines the package, keeping what’s good, updating as needed, and delivering the right mix of features, capabilities, comfort, and style”.

See also: 2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid First Drive: A Transition Step to the Coming All-Electric Pickup

Ford F-150 2021
Photo: Ford
Ford F-150 2021

Of course, even in this tradition-bound segment things are shaking up. A hybrid version of the F-150 is now once again available, and an all-electric variant is in the works (and almost ready in fact). And there are a bunch of all-electric pickups on the horizon ready to take on the champ.

See also: Top 10: Electric Pickups We're Eagerly Awaiting in 2021 and 2022

It all makes us wonder what NACTOY’s winners’ circle will look like in another decade…