How The Tesla Model 3 Got #MotorTrended and Lost Car of the Year

The Tesla Model 3, which MT called "the most important car of the century" in July, did not win the brand's COTY award in December. Huh?

Tesla / The Drive

Mo·torTrend·ing — /ˈmōdər/ˈtrenDiNG/ — (Verb): To exalt, support, popularize and/or endorse inferior products based on ad revenue, or the expectation of ad revenue. To omit context and/or data which might deter advertisers. To publish data rather than information, at the expense of educating readers. See also: "Pulling Punches."

You may not have heard of MotorTrending, but if you've consumed media that claims to review products of any kind, you've probably been a victim of it. MotorTrending wasn't invented by Motor Trend, but among automotive media, it is best characterized by it.

Motor Trend has a long history of MotorTrending, but it's often in phases. Fun examples include their transparently terrible Car Of The Year choices in:

There's a reason none of these cars have been featured on Petrolicious. You don't get to be as big as Motor Trend with stupid people at the helm, so it stands to reason that these were deliberate, agenda-driven choices, which is what MotorTrending is all about.

We could stop the article right there, but for those who think MotorTrending is dead, guess again.

How Is The Tesla Model 3 NOT Car of the Year?

Motor Trend's most recent example was its selection of the Alfa Romeo Giulia as the 2018 Car of the Year. You don't need to be Jeremy Clarkson to know that's ridiculous. Even the flowery prose explaining why is ridiculous. When your group of finalists included the Kia Stinger, Honda Civic Type R, the Porsche Panamera and especially the Tesla Model 3, the Giulia's selection is as suspicious as Matt Lauer having a secret button to lock his office door.

In no universe is the Giulia the car of the year, even by Motor Trend's own standards. Any of the other finalists would have been a better choice, but heaven knows FCA has ad dollars to spend, if not on Alfa Romeo ads, then on everything else in their portfolio, with tons of press cars to throw around for those cushy long-term reviews.

Tesla Model 3 -- /CHEATSHEET
The Drive

Guess who doesn't buy ads? Tesla. Long-term press cars? Elon Musk laughs at you. All-expenses-paid trips to Fremont? Nope. Nada.

I would argue that the Tesla Model 3 should have won by a mile. Even if everything the $TSLA shorts say is true and the Model 3 is literal flaming junk, the Giulia shouldn't have beaten it, because it is worse.

For our purposes, let's assume the Tesla trolls are right, and compare the Model 3 and the Giulia using Motor Trend's own hilariously vague and flexible criteria:

Design Advancement:

"Well-executed exterior and interior styling; innovative vehicle packaging; selection of materials."

The Giulia's exterior is well-executed. It's also totally derivative of every Alfa made for the last fifty years. If competence were king, the Honda Accord should have won. It was one of the finalists, and it's well executed. The Tesla is absolutely unmistakable and, if it's derivative, at least it's derivative of the Model S, which still looks fresh. Even if you think the Model 3's nose is awkward, it presents far more "design advancement" than the Giulia. The Tesla is the very essence of innovative packaging, whereas the Giulia is the same-old-same-old on top of the latest version of same-old.  

The Giulia's interior is indeed stylish—I'd even say it's beautiful. It's also made of Legos. Actually, that's an insult to Denmark: the Giulia's interior uses the same cheap switchgear and materials that have aged so badly on everything else to come of out FCA. An Audi this isn't.

What about the Tesla's interior? I think it's stunning. So do all my ex-fiancees. It's super Scandi—so clean. It's just a volume knob away from being perfect. The infotainment and nav make FCA's look like an Atari 2600. The Model 3's HVAC system interface and execution is the biggest advancement since the invention of air conditioning

Even if the build quality is as terrible as critics suggest, the three Model 3's I've been in were no worse than the best Alfa ever made. The Tesla's interior has the benefit of being far simpler, more elegant, and with fewer moving parts. Even if executed poorly, the Model 3's interior design represents the future. The Alfa is stuck in the present, which is the same thing as the past when we're talking about the future. And Tesla is the future.

Engineering Excellence:

"Vehicle concept and execution; clever solutions to packaging, manufacturing and dynamics issues; cost-effective technology that benefits the consumer."

The Alfa Romeo Giulia is already a failure, from engineering to reliability; its myriad problems—especially with the high-performance Quadrifoglio variant—well documented by almost every press outlet not named Motor Trend. None of this benefits the consumer. Selecting it as COTY could benefit Motor Trend, however.

Rumors are, the Model 3 also has some foibles. But unlike the Giulia, it abounds with "clever solutions" and "cost-effective technology that benefits the consumer": a full electric powertrain with a range of 310+ miles; hi-speed charging via Tesla's Supercharger network; wireless updates; Fleet Learning; Autopilot—the list goes on. The Model 3 would have to explode on contact not to win this one.

Efficiency:

"Low fuel consumption and carbon footprint, relative to the vehicle's competitive set."

Motor Trend's editors are clearly not dumb. These are good people. Smart people. I know some of these people. Unless these same people are on the payroll of big oil, it is literally inconceivable that the Alfa would win an "efficiency" contest—even one "relative to the vehicle's competitive set"—over the Tesla. Unless they are fans of the long tailpipe theory, which they should know has been debunked.

Tesla Model 3 Revealed
Tesla

Safety: 

"Active—help the driver avoid a crash; secondary—protect occupants from harm during a crash."

Both are top-rated. If you consider Tesla Autopilot a safety feature, the Model 3 annihilates the Alfa. If not, let's call this one a tie. It probably isn't, based on this crash-test video where a Model 3 is even safer than the extraordinarily safe Volvo S60. But that's just one video, and hey, it wouldn't be fair if the Tesla won everything.

​​​​​​​Value: 

"Competitive price and equipment levels, measured against vehicles in the same market segment."

A car can't be competitive, let alone a good value, if it's always broken. How bad is the Alfa situation? As bad as it ever was.

Tesla has had its own issues. But Tesla has something Alfa has never had: the world's highest brand loyalty. Again and again, Tesla sweeps owner satisfaction surveys, despite reliability issues. Why? Because it's easier to resolve software issues than hardware—especially with OTA updates. Also, Tesla owners are essentially early adopters by definition, and early adopters will forgive a lot from a company pushing the technological envelope.

How about depreciation? If you want a bucket of bolts, skip the middleman (also known as your local Alfa dealer) and just head to a scrapyard. The Alfa will be a Tavarish rehab special within five years. The Tesla? People are already flipping them at a profit, which I predict should last as long as it takes for Elon to reach his production targets. Call it three to five years, after which anything is possible. Out-of-warranty Model 3 values will probably be like Bitcoin: great if you got in early, which is the opposite of Alfa, where the last owner is always the happiest one.

Performance of Intended Function: 

"How well the vehicle does the job its planners, designers, and engineers intended."

Tesla has more orders for the Model 3 than Alfa has sales in America. If a car's intended function is: first, to sell; next, to impress; and finally, to engender brand loyalty, then Tesla has already won.

Motor Trend talks about driving passion, yadda yadda. The Honda Civic Type R offers all that, without the Alfa's problems. The Kia Stinger is a secret gem of driving pleasure, and perfectly packaged and priced for those wise enough to look past the Alfa.

Tesla has done more to ignite enthusiasm for future cars than the rest of the industry combined. Is Motor Trend arguing that the Giulia, even if it worked perfectly, is better than the Model 3 in any way, other than in theory? 

Even in theory?


The Tesla Model 3 should have won Motor Trend's Car of the Year. You know who seems to agree with this? Motor Trend, which called it "the most important car of the century" back in July:

Alex Roy

Consider that for a moment: in July, Motor Trend called the Tesla Model 3 "the most important vehicle of the century"; in December, it named another vehicle its "car of the year." (In between, on November 27th, they even called the Model 3 the "car that could change the world.") That does not add up.

So what happened? How did Tesla get MotorTrended? It could as innocent as politics, but I doubt it. Tesla's not gonna spend, but FCA might. Totally innocent, but craven. One thing is sure: When Bob Lutz says the legacy auto media deserves to die, this is why.

Motor Trend sure knows how to follow up some MotorTrending with some shameless bet-hedging. On December 4th, they published a comparo between the Model 3, the Chevy Bolt and the Nissan Leaf—cars that have nothing in common save that they are all electric vehicles.

Who do you think won? The Tesla, of course.

Gotta keep those doors open with the Tesla comms people, at least for when the Roadster goes into production.

(PREDICTION: The next time Tesla gives only one auto media outlet a long-term pre-release press car, it won't be Motor Trend. Elon doesn't forget.)


For those of you who think I'm too pro-Tesla, I will say that I wouldn't have written this if the Porsche Panamera had won Motor Trend's COTY. That thing makes the Giulia and Model 3 both look like Trabants.

Can't wait for the Porsche Mission E.

Alex Roy — Editor-at-Large for The Drive, Host of The Autonocast, co-host of /DRIVE on NBC Sports, author of The Driver, has set numerous endurance driving records in Europe & the USA in the internal combustion, EV, 3-wheeler & Semi-Autonomous Classes, including the infamous Cannonball Run record. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.