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A Volkswagen manager applauds during the handover of a Volkswagen ID.4 SUV electric car to the first customer at the Glaeserne Manufaktur in Dresden, Germany, on March 26, 2021.

MATTHIAS RIETSCHEL/Reuters

Five years ago, I asked one of BMW’s most senior global executives what it would take for electric vehicles to become mainstream.

“It will be when your neighbour buys one,” said Peter Schwarzenbauer, who’s now in charge of Mini, Rolls-Royce, and BMW’s motorcycles. “It will be when you realize that it’s no longer a novelty but something that’s quite real and accepted by the person next door.”

Five years is a lifetime in the development of electric vehicles and batteries, but now the fully-electric Volkswagen ID.4 crossover has won the title of World Car of the Year. Will this be enough for your neighbour to buy one, or for you?

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It’s not easy to win the various award categories of World Car of the Year, let alone the main prize. I know firsthand because I’m one of the jurors who helps choose the winners. There are three of us in Canada and another 90 jurors in 27 other countries around the world. We’re all professional automotive journalists who drive all the cars available in our markets.

Only mass-produced vehicles that are new for the year and sold on at least two continents are eligible for the big award, but every eligible vehicle is voted on by the jurors. We have to actually drive it, and at least two-thirds of us should vote on it to keep it in the running. All voting is anonymous, of course. Ultimately, the vehicle that gets the highest score in a number of categories that include value, safety, innovation, performance, technology and comfort is declared the winner.

This year, there were five other awards announced. The World Luxury Car is the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the World Performance Car is the Porsche 911 Turbo. No surprises for either of those benchmark vehicles. The World Car Design of the Year was presented to the Land Rover Defender, which updated its iconic original look.

“We had a very clear design strategy that was about recognizing the past but not being harnessed by it,” said Gerry McGovern, the chief creative officer for Jaguar Land Rover. “This vehicle is for the next generation … an award like this speaks volumes of the way people feel about it.”

Akio Toyoda, the president and CEO of Toyota Motor Corp, was named World Car Person of 2020. My own vote for Tesla’s Elon Musk didn’t make the grade.

The World Urban Car, which can be no longer than 4.2 metres, is the funky Honda e – good luck ever seeing that retro-styled electric vehicle in North America, but it also made the final three for World Car of the Year, alongside the Toyota Yaris. That’s two battery electric vehicles among the three considered the best overall car in the world. That’s got to mean something.

The Volkswagen ID.4 is very new to the market. It’s built in Germany and only began selling in Europe and China in the last few months, and even more recently in the U.S. We won’t get it in Canada until at least September, where it will list at $44,995 before any rebates. Even then, it’ll be tough to find one. But once it starts being built in Tennessee next year, it should be far more common on our roads.

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“It represents nothing short of the future of Volkswagen as a brand,” says Thomas Tetzlaff, VW Canada’s Manager of Media Relations. “We’re still very active with internal combustion engines, but 10 years from now, I think we all know where this industry is going. The ID.4 is going to be the wedge that we use to drive right into the heart of the market.

“It’s a good car that happens to be electric. This award is the ultimate validation that where we’re headed is the right path.”

Of course, it’s also a validation for Volkswagen itself after its “Dieselgate” scandal of 2015, when it was caught cheating on emissions controls and ended up paying more than 31 billion euros in fines and settlements. Since then, the company has invested at least as much again in the development of clean electric technology.

The ID.4 is to be one of a series of electric vehicles from Volkswagen, just as other manufacturers are starting to release their own electric series. I already walk my dog past two separate neighbours who have fully-electric cars, and they’re both very satisfied.

The World Car of the Year award is not the ultimate vindication for EVs because it’s voted on by journalists who don’t need to put their money where their mouths are. It won’t take much longer now, though, for Volkswagen and all the other manufacturers who’ve been investing in their electric futures to see their vindication on the world’s roads. And pretty soon, you’ll see it for yourself outside your neighbour’s house.

Mark Richardson is a juror for the World Car of the Year awards.

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