Road to emergence of 2016’s car of the year was rough and controversial. Peugeot 301’s surfacing as final winner happened at the last minute, about 72 hours to the event. Certain critics, including some motoring writers, believe that, unlike 2015’s edition won by Kia Rio, this year’s award was free but unfair.
However, some event watchers suppose that this year’s event was actually an improvement over last year’s , because while emergence of last year’s winner was mainly award committee’s prerogative, this year’s winner was decided by result of voting conducted among motoring journalists. That is, all motoring writers got involved, sort of.
Notwithstanding, there are critics, who believe that vote for the 301 was influenced by a last-minute analysis, which was likened to a campaign around polling stations on an election day.
Reason: As at when online vote was opened weeks before the award night, Toyota Corolla was ahead of Peugeot 301 and Nissan Almera by over 80%. But 72 hours before the D-Day, after Motoring journalists’ pre-event meeting, during which secret voting was conducted, online voting for 301 surged significantly.
But, in an opinion poll conducted by Motoring World in three states within Western Nigeria, including Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti, Oyo and Abuja, 90% of respondents prefer Corolla above others, if not for price. A week before this write-up was put together; a poser was published on Motoring World’s Facebook page. It reads:
Recently, Nigeria Auto journalists chose Peugeot 301 as Nigerian Car of the year, as against Toyota Corolla, Nissan Almera and even Kia Rio. Which car would you rather choose?
Out of over 600 Facebook audience reached by the poser as at Saturday, 118, who are Motoring World subscribers responded by email in favour of Toyota Corolla. 59 responded in favour of Peugeot 301. 41 responded in favour of Nissan Almera. A member of National Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC), who responded to Facebook poser, simply chose: “None of the above,” which is understandable, as NADDC would not want to be seen to favour one auto maker over another. The only member of the public, who boldly voted as at Friday chose Corolla.
In essence, feeling the opinion pulse of both motoring journalists and indeed the nation’s motoring public, no Nigerian brand enjoys the acceptability and popularity of Toyota. And so, if pitched against any competitor in Nigeria, notwithstanding quality, Toyota Corolla is unlikely to be beaten, if not for certain essential criteria added to this year’s award.
Indeed Corolla would most likely have been crowned 2015 Car of the year, had it not been disqualified, because Toyota Nigeria Limited (TNL) allegedly failed to release it for a test-drive. That is, it lost the crown not because it was made or assembled abroad.
And so, having realized that test-drive is an essential criteria for winning, TNL, according the award committee, corrected last year’s error by releasing a Corolla for test-drive. It, therefore, had all chances of being crowned Car-of-the-Year. But, only about 72 hours to the D-Day, the tide turned against Corolla and Almera.
How the Battle was Lost and Won
At an extra-ordinary crucial meeting held on Tuesday, 22nd November 2016, organizing committee insisted that, aside online voting, physical voting by secret ballot was compulsory for final selection of winners of most categories and most especially, Car of the year. But before the voting commenced, the award coordinator gave a quick guide as to what members should consider in their voting as follows:
- Whether or not assembled in Nigeria
- Release for test-drive
That last-minute pre-voting guide was, generally believed to have cost Corolla the 2016 victory. For it suddenly became dawn on voters that, while Corolla was released for test-drive, of the three nominees, the car was not only the least affordable, but also not yet assembled in Nigeria. It was like scoring one over three in an examination. That was it. The said speech was believed to have influenced voting pattern and brightened the fate of Peugeot 301 as well as darkened that of Corolla and Almera.
However, responding to critics, the Committee chairman, Mr. Theodore Okpara, pointed out that the speech was not meant to favour any car, but to rather remind members of important criteria being considered for the award as well as ensure that voters made right judgement devoid of emotions.
Although the most popular, loved and acceptable car in Nigeria, Corolla’s case at the end of the 2016 NAJA Award night could be likened to the popular saying in Nigerian political history, when a popular candidate lost a crucial election and was described as :“The best president Nigeria never had.”
Like Toyota, Nissan Almera was also believed to have lost the crown as a result of the pre-voting presentation, during which it came to light that Stallion Motors did not release Almera for test-drive, despite being communicated to.
Nissan is another Japanese brand that gained popularity and acceptability in Nigeria over the years, but got eclipsed by Toyota’s consistent marketing, first class customer service and international best practice, courtesy of Elizade Motors, which gave birth to Toyota Nigeria Limited.
But when Stallion became sole representative of Nissan in Nigeria, it did not only revive the image of the brand in Nigeria, it set up an assembly plant for it. In essence, Nissan Almera is assembled in Nigeria. And talking about affordability, it is more affordable than Peugeot 301 and Toyota Corolla. But it lost the crown also at the last minute after voters were reminded that, although it is assembled locally and most affordable of the three, Stallion refused to release it for test-drive.
In essence, like Corolla, Almera was likely to have been victorious, if not for the last-minute bombshell released by the organizing committee, a point that disqualified Corolla in 2015.
Following the secret ballot meeting, no announcement was made, but it was clear to all members, which machine would be crowned 2016 Car of the year.
While the controversy raged on, this writer had a pre-event discussion with a Stallion’s Public Relations point-man, requesting to know why Stallion broke a simple rule of releasing a nominated car for test-drive.
He answered: “Why do you guys need to test-drive Almera again? Afterall, it is no more new in the market, and when it was new, the car was released to you for test-drive?”
Motoring World: But was Toyota Corolla new to Motoring Journalists, when TNL’s management was publicly accused of withholding the car from being test-driven for the purpose of the 2015’s award? Why did Stallion feel this year’s condition would be different?”
He answered: I was never informed about test-drive request; I only got to know about it, when it was too late. Given my position with the company, the committee members knew I would have convinced the management about the importance of releasing the car for test-drive.
And for Peugeot 301, all motoring journalists believe it deserved the crown, being locally assembled, more affordable than Corolla, and, as claimed by organizing committee, was released for a test-drive.
Two questions that, however, continuously trailed this year’s award ceremony have been: If being locally assembled is a major criteria for choosing a Car of the Year, why nominating the Corolla at all? Second, why did award committee take the pain of going to test-drive Corolla, giving TNL a false hope? Why was 2015 winner, Kia Rio, not nominated again?
However, the chairman of Nigeria Auto Journalists Association, Mr. Frank Kintum responded to all critics thus: “We are in a learning process. You will agree with me that, no matter the imperfections of this year’s event, there is a major improvement over that of last year. This year, we are all involved in selection of winners. And with what we learnt from this year’s event, I have no doubt that 2017 edition will be far better.”
The battle for Car of the Year has been lost and won. PAN Nigeria’s Managing Director smiled home with the plaque, which obviously meant a lot to him, especially in this recession season, when his company is striving hard to regain the pre-90s position of Peugeot in Nigeria, the controversy surrounding the event is far from ending.
Like match steak does to a fueled environment, criticism against the 2016 car of the year award started only within the Guild of Nigerian Motoring Journalists. But as at press time, Motoring World gathered it is spreading among major players of the auto industry.
A top management staff of one of the nation’s leading assembling plant (name withheld), bore his mind to Motoring World’s editor early Monday morning. He said:”How can you guys pick a car that is hardly seen on Nigerian road as a Car of the Year? More so, information filtering to us from your Guild alleged that 301 was deliberately favoured by certain minority motoring journalists, who are close to Peugeot.”
He also wondered why Corolla, which is not locally assembled, was nominated, while others, which are locally assembled was left out.
Notwithstanding, all NAJA members are aware of the negative development and are determined to reach an understanding, make amends and correct whatever negative impression this year’s event might have heaped on the nation’s motoring press and indeed the annual event.
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