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Nissan Leaf is the World Car of The Year. (Michael Bettencourt for The Globe and Mail)
Nissan Leaf is the World Car of The Year. (Michael Bettencourt for The Globe and Mail)

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Nissan Leaf named World Car of The Year Add to ...

Nissan's all-electric Leaf won the 2011 World Car of the Year award, announced at a press conference just before the opening of the public days of the New York auto show on Good Friday.

But the Leaf didn't win the group's World Green Car award, even though it and the Chevrolet Volt were short-listed for the award, along with the BMW 320d diesel.

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In the same vein as Jennifer Lopez being named People magazine's most Beautiful Person this year, but the Spanish-singing star not making the top 50 in the magazine's People Spanish-language edition, it begs the question: how? How could the Leaf triumph as overall World Car for 2011, and yet not beat out the Volt for the World Green Car award?

Even as a WCOTY juror, one of two Canadians on the 66-member selection panel, it's a difficult question to answer. The short answer is that the Volt did not make the eligibility list for the overall 2011 WCOTY award, since neither it nor its European Opel/Vauxhall Ampera stable-mate will be on sale on two continents by June of this year, one of the prerequisites of the overall World Car of the Year awards. For the World Green Car and World Design awards, however, the two-continent stipulation in the award year is relaxed, explained Matt Davis, the Milan-based WCOTY co-chair.

"These awards (Green and Design) are much more time-sensitive, and both good technology and good design are in themselves universal."

That 2011 World Design award went to the Aston Martin Rapide, likely the best-looking four-door vehicle on the planet right now, for which it had to be to beat out the luscious Ferrari 458 Italia and the stylish Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

The 458 Italia did take home the prize as the 2011 World Performance Car of the Year, the other award that applies the two-continent-by-June rule strictly, beating out the gull-wing Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and the 2+2 Porsche 911 Turbo.

Both the Leaf and the Volt were also named this week as Top Safety Picks by the U.S. Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. The IIHS released videos of both battery-powered vehicles being crash tested, which should help to assure buyers concerned about the heavy batteries' robustness in a serious crack-up.

Even if the Volt was on the overall World Car of The Year ballot, the Leaf makes a strong argument for the award, which helped it to beat out the much-pricier and more-luxurious BMW 5 Series and Audi A8. In Europe, Africa, Australia and much of Asia and South America, common 220-volt outlets mean no extra wiring or stove outlet is needed to fully recharge the Leaf overnight. And fuel prices as well as hatchback popularity are much higher in most countries outside the United States.

Mitsubishi to end Eclipse, Endeavour production

Mitsubishi Motors Canada confirmed this week that the Eclipse coupe, Eclipse convertible and Endeavor SUV will not be sold as of 2012, with reports suggesting that the vehicles will cease production as early as this August.

The plant in Normal, Ill., that builds all three vehicles will start producing the RVR (called the Outlander Sport in the United States) in 2012, the big seller in Mitsubishi's current lineup, and also builds the Galant mid-size sedan.

"As we re-tool the plant, production of the Eclipse and Endeavour will begin to phase out," said Tomoki Yanagawa, vice-president of sales/marketing and corporate planning at Mitsu's Canadian arm.

Disappointed fans of Mitsu's hot-looking but heavy Eclipse will still have performance versions of the Lancer sedan to covet, especially its rally-bred 291-hp Lancer Evolution. However, the future of that extreme go-fast variant - while safe for now - doesn't seem to fit in to Mitsubishi Motors' enviro-friendly long-term plans, which include a planned market debut of the all-electric i-MiEV by the end of 2011.

"Moving forward, we will focus on smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles with an emphasis on zero-emission EVs and also plug-in hybrid electric vehicles," Yanagawa said in an e-mail this week. "As for (the Evo's) successor, regulations and market feedback will dictate its engineering package and architecture."

Revenge of the Electric Car

The follow-up Revenge of the Electric Car documentary debuted on Earth Day in New York, with starring roles for Nissan, California e-sports car maker Tesla and GM, one of the most guilty parties to the question of the original Who Killed the Electric Car?

Interestingly, at a panel discussion after a showing of the film at the Tribeca Film Festival, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn takes issue with the film's portrayal of EVs as a make-or-break proposition for the company.

"We think this is going to be a great success, but we're not betting the house on it," reported The Detroit News.

The new documentary follows Ghosn, Tesla CEO/co-founder Elon Musk and GM's since-departed Bob Lutz through the trials of launching their respective plug-in vehicles in a world "wired" for internal combustion engine vehicles. This included flirtations with various degrees of bankruptcy for both Tesla and GM between 2008 and 2009, when the new-car market and credit markets disastrously tanked over the same period.

Lutz, the former vice-chairman of product at GM and champion of the Volt near the end of his tenure in 2010, has long credited Tesla for showing up its larger automotive brethren. The Roadster pushed GM to overcome the bitter PR experience it had with its EV1 of the early 1990s with the technical and marketing lessons it learned from that two-seat plug-in battery electric vehicle.

Hyundai guarantees U.S. trade-in values

Hyundai's U.S. arm has pulled out another creative sales concept that guarantees a set resale value after three or four years, but the program is not coming to Canada.

The program guarantees a set trade-in value for a newly bought Hyundai in three or four years, if traded in on another new Hyundai, and serviced at a Hyundai dealer. It's meant to target folks worried about the resale value of the brand, which ranks below many mainstream rivals in the United States.

"We are aware of the U.S. program and are investigating it thoroughly," John Vernile, vice-president of marketing at Hyundai Canada, said in an e-mail this week. "That said, we're far too early in our process to speculate on how or if the opportunity would roll out in Canada."

No question, it's not financially savvy to pay more to buy instead of lease a vehicle if one thinks they'll be looking at trading it in four years from now, and likely looking at continuous car payments anyway.

It's not as radical or potentially as helpful as Hyundai's Assurance program, the one-year return policy on new vehicles bought in the U.S. launched at the height of the financial crisis, and credited with helping to make Hyundai one of only three brands in the U.S. to increase sales in a brutal 2009 sales year. That plan also never made it to Canada.

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