A vocal minority of car enthusiasts in Arizona are up in arms over the results of the 2021 North American Car of the Year award and are now feverishly seeking to undo the results with a recount of the state’s votes. The 2021 Hyundai Elantra was the clear winner of the annual honor, bestowed by the North American Car, Utility, and Truck of the Year (NACTOY) automotive media jury, but the outcome isn’t sitting well with everyone.
It’s unclear what the disgruntled voters expect to achieve by recounting an estimated 2.1 million votes given the Elantra’s clear 7 million vote margin of victory over it’s closest competitor: a 1994 Pontiac Grand Am. While the Pontiac normally wouldn’t be eligible for the 2021 award due to the fact it was introduced 27 years ago, and since Pontiac went out of business in 2009, a groundswell of support from disaffected voters saw the Grand Am make the ballot despite its complete lack of qualifications.
Introduced in the 70s, the Grand Am was Pontiac’s attempt to strike a balance between sportiness and luxury after high-end brands like BMW and Mercedes moved into the U.S. market. As is often the case when trying to strike such a balance, the Grand Am failed spectacularly at both, earning a reputation as a cheap imitation of a legitimate sports car that failed to gain much support beyond a loyal subset of Pontiac owners. Even with an established American car brand supporting the Grand Am financially, it was unable to ever earn a reputation as a serious contender in the domestic market, despite numerous television appearances including The Incredible Hulk, Miami Vice, and The Wonder Years.
That all changed in recent years, when a fringe group of Grand Am fans staged a virtual coup of the Great Old Pontiac owners club, rocketing the Grand Am into the mainstream despite a confoundingly short list of positive attributes. While the group’s members recognize that the Pontiac lacks many of the safety features, efficiency, and overall styling of modern vehicles like the Elantra, they insist that only American-made vehicles are qualified to hold the Car of the Year title.
“The Grand Am is a quintessential American success story,” says Jay Dermant, chair of the Arizona Pontiac Owners Association. “Starting with a small $211 million investment by Pontiac, the Grand Am was able to make the company literally thousands of dollars during its time on the market. Too long we’ve let these multinational brands plunder our domestic market and earn all the awards, but the Grand Am has set its sights on making the title of North American Car of the Year great again.”
This new breed of diehard, fact-resistant Grand Am fans went as far as to remove their highest-ranking female member of the Great Old Pontiac owners club after she spoke out in support of the Elantra. “I’ve been a proud Pontiac driver my entire life, but after a short ride in the Elantra, I was won over by the smooth ride, low fuel consumption, and the fact that it didn’t require you to refill the radiator with Diet Pepsi 11 times a day,” said Triz Laney in a now-infamous interview with a local ABC affiliate.
“I didn’t love the Grand Am at first, I’ll admit it. It’s noisy, always getting itself into trouble, and is a little too flashy without actually having anything of substance underneath, but after it beat out the Firebird to become Pontiac’s candidate, I fell in line and went with the flow,” says Laney. “Now, I can’t stand by any longer and while my Pontiac colleagues call into question the proud tradition of the North American Car of the Year award.”
Laney is the latest casualty in a culture war that’s swept the increasingly fractured car-buying nation in recent years. While those on one side advocate for a more progressive type of energy-efficient vehicles to represent the industry, others believe that only a true blue, exhaust-spewing son of Detroit should be named Car of the Year. Decrying the perceived hysteria around scientifically proven trends like climate change, Pontiac owners say the Grand Am is inexorably linked to American taste in culture in a way that virtually guarantees its status as a contender for years to come.
The recount continues in Arizona despite the fact that the 2021 award was bestowed over 100 days ago. Voting watchdogs worry that the decidedly pro-Pontiac group proctoring the tally could lead to biased results, but others advocate letting them have their fun and pray they lose interest by the time the next election cycle rolls around.