Every year, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) issues its annual Canadian Car of the Year and Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year awards. We are honoured to inform you the 2021 Nissan Rogue has been named the Best Mid-Size Utility Vehicle in Canada for 2021 by AJAC!
More than 250 vehicles were eligible for evaluation and voting in this year's awards, including all on-sale vehicles: those newly designed, recently refreshed, and carried over from the previous year were all eligible upon receiving a minimum number of ballots submitted by AJAC journalists.
To learn more about AJAC and its members' evaluation process for these awards, In Drive spoke with Stephanie Wallcraft, president of AJAC.
Stephanie Wallcraft, president of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada
Q: Thank you for your time to connect with the In Drive team and share more about AJAC and its Canadian Car of the Year and Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year awards. Before we get into the AJAC organization, please share tell us more about yourself.
A: Thanks for asking! I'm a full-time freelance automotive journalist working with some of the largest automotive media outlets in the country, including Driving.ca, Wheels.ca and autoTRADER.ca among others. I live in the west end of Toronto with my daughter, our two cats, and an endless rotation of test vehicles going through my driveway. My passion for motorsport is what got me into the business, but these days I cover much more including family vehicles, road safety, industry news, environmental issues, and – outside of pandemic restrictions, at least – the adventures of road tripping with my daughter across Canada.
Q: For those unfamiliar with AJAC, what is it?
A: AJAC is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and has the same mission today as it did when it was established: to uphold the standards of automobile journalism across the country. We have more than 100 journalist members based from coast to coast, making us the largest collective group of automobile critic experts in Canada. By being an AJAC member, every one of us commits to upholding the association's Code of Ethics, which outlines our standards of journalistic integrity and defines how
Journalist Sammy Chan of Markham, Ont. signing in at the 2018 TestFest Event, where AJAC members spend a few days to evaluate contenders for Canadian Car and Utility Vehicle of the Year Awards
…we protect ourselves from conflicts of interest so that we can be completely honest and unbiased in our work.
In short, if you see work from an AJAC member, you can be sure that's an opinion you can trust.
Journalist and AJAC member Marc Lachapelle of Longueuil, QC, at the 2019 TestFest event
Q: Congratulations on being elected president for the second year in a row! Looking back on the past couple of years, how has AJAC as an organization grown or changed?
A: Thank you! Well, I didn't get into it imagining that I'd be navigating a national not-for-profit association through a global pandemic, that's for sure. Like everyone else, COVID-19 has taught us how to pivot quickly, and it's given us a chance to take a high-level look at which parts of what we do are essential and which were overdue for change. We're extremely proud that we were still able to collect enough test drive data to announce winners in our awards program for 2021. This is thanks entirely to the fierce dedication of our members,
…who take their responsibility very seriously to inform Canadian drivers of the vehicles that are worth their money.
Journalist and AJAC member Jil McIntosh of Oshawa, Ont. completing her evaluation form at the 2019 TestFest Event
Q: At Nissan, we are extremely grateful to have our best seller named a winner in its category. What is the process for AJAC members to select the category winners, and overall winners?
A: AJAC members complete a ballot for each new vehicle we test drive in a given calendar year. For some of our members, this can be in the range of 70 vehicles or more in 52 weeks! Each ballot includes fields for vehicle attributes such as interior and exterior styling, technology and safety features, drivetrain performance, handling, cargo usability, value for money, and more.
Steve Milette, president of Nissan Canada Inc., and Marcel Guay, chief marketing manager, crossovers, with the AJAC trophy for the "Best Mid-Size Utility Vehicle for 2021", awarded to the all-new 2021 Nissan Rogue.
Journalist and AJAC member Malcolm Gunn of Moncton, NB completing his evaluation form at the 2019 TestFest Event
The ballots are collected, and then we have another round of data control that requires a minimum number of ballots per vehicle and a minimum number of vehicles per category to ensure that we're working with a sufficiently diverse set of data.
All of that data then goes to our partners at KPMG for independent tabulation before the results are produced.
It's an involved process, but it's an important one. AJAC's awards program is considered among the most rigorous in the world for good reason.
Q: It's a huge effort for all voting members, and a tremendous amount of unpaid work. What is it that motivates AJAC members to evaluate contenders, and determine the winners?
A: People are inundated with information these days, and the internet and social media have really muddied the waters around where people find opinions on the products they consider buying. AJAC members are all automotive enthusiasts ourselves, but we're also professional journalists who understand the critical importance of unbiased opinion.
Vehicles at the 2019 TestFest event
Knowing that many people are paid to promote vehicles through their channels these days – and that those paid promotions are not always identified as being what they really are, which is advertising – we feel it's more important than ever for Canadians to have a singular collective source they can go to for information that is honest, fair, and unbiased.
A vehicle is one of the most expensive purchases you'll make in your lifetime, so it's important to know that the reviews and opinions you're coming across in your research are coming from experts you can trust.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your role as president?
A: I find the role rewarding in so many ways, but the one that speaks to me the most right now is being able to highlight how much diversity there is among our group of experts. The auto industry has a reputation for not being inclusive, and yet here I am as the association's first female president.
Sami Haj-Assaad became the first person of colour to win our Journalist of the Year award in 2020. We have members who are male and female, and we have members of diverse backgrounds speaking to their audiences in not only English and French but also Cantonese, Mandarin, Sanskrit, and more.
Our membership reflects the diversity found across Canada, and we're working hard on internal programs to bolster those efforts even further.
It's just one of many aspects that makes AJAC an association I'm very proud to lead and represent.
Sami Haj-Assaad, winner of the 2020 Journalist of the Year Award
To follow AJAC and the work of its members across Canada, follow AJAC on FacebookOpens in a new tab., LinkedInOpens in a new tab., Twitter (@AJACanadaOpens in a new tab.), and Instagram (@AJACanadaOpens in a new tab.).