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Honda Civic and Ridgeline are NA Car/Truck of the Year

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First double win in program's history

For the first time in the history of the North American Car/Truck of the Year Awards, a single car company has won both categories.

Honda Civic and Ridgeline were named North American Car and Truck of the Year, respectively, by an independent panel of 49 American and Canadian automotive journalists.

The Civic compact sedan was in a close race with the Ford Fusion and Pontiac Solstice (the poll results were 244, 204 and 134), but the Ridgeline pickup seemed to have no trouble beating the Nissan Xterra and Ford Explorer (296, 120, and 119).

Officially, the awards are designed to recognize the most outstanding new vehicles of the year, based on factors including innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for the dollar.

Unofficially, as a juror I look for vehicles that are so good or different that they change the tone of their segment, or even the entire industry. For me, at least, the point is to showcase the vehicles that the public most needs to know about every year.

To be eligible for the awards, the vehicles must be "all new" or "substantially changed" from the previous model. That is often a judgment call, since a new engine in an existing car is not usually enough to earn consideration, unless it's something big like a hybrid engine in an existing model.

As usual, the awards were given out at the North American Auto Show, which is not otherwise connected to the evaluation program. The program is run by a committee of seven members (one of which is me) and is voted on by full-time automotive journalists from Canada and the U.S.

The North American Car/Truck of the Year Awards program is different from awards given out by individual magazines or newspapers or TV shows or whatever, in that there is no chance advertising can have an influence on the voting since the jurors are spread across any number of publications or websites.

It's also different from the awards program operated by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), since vehicles cannot be eligible to take part in that program unless the car companies pay AJAC to consider their vehicles, and because some of the jurors are amateur or part-time auto writers.

In the North American Car/Truck of the Year program, the process is funded by the jurors (there is zero car company sponsorship), and the judging process goes on all year long as the vehicles are introduced to the jurors as part of their jobs. The full list of new vehicles that come along in a single year (if they're going to sell more than 5,000 units annually) are then compiled.

Around the first of October, the jurors go over the full list and pick the wheat from the chaff. This year, we came up with 14 new cars and 14 new trucks we thought deserved overall consideration.

Jurors are responsible to get in as many nominated vehicles as possible during the fall, and the organizing committee organizes a two-day test session near Detroit. Again, the jurors pay there own expenses for this. All the car companies do is supply vehicles.

In early December the final ballots are turned over to Steve Laughman, a partner at Deloitte & Touche in Detroit, and Laughman keeps the winners secret until he hands over sealed envelopes at the awards ceremony. This means the organizing committee members and the jurors are just as surprised as the auto industry when the winners are announced.