When Cars.co.za decided to launch its Consumer Awards in 2015, it had the luxury of starting the programme afresh; unencumbered by industry expectations.
We identified several goals, and the mechanisms of (what would come to be known as) the #CarsAwards were devised, refined and implemented to make those goals achievable.
The critical goals were:
1. The list of vehicles recognised by the Consumer Awards should help car buyers shortlist vehicles for consideration, in whichever category they happen to be shopping;
2. Post-purchasing “living with” factors needed to be considered (and factored in);
3. To broadcast the finalists and winners to as many South Africans as possible throughout the awards’ 6-month process, and immediately after the winners were announced.
And so, the Cars.co.za team started building an awards programme quite unlike any this country had seen before...
1. All the cars in the market considered
Right from the start, it was clear that for the Consumer Awards to be of any value to car buyers, it had to include all the cars that are available as new or “out-of-the-box”, not only those launched in the past 12 months. “There are vehicles that have been on the market for three, sometimes four years, that are still worth considering,” says Hannes Oosthuizen, Cars.co.za Consumer Experience Manager and #CarsAwards project leader. “We simply had to be inclusive of everything, particularly if you consider that after-sales service accounts for the scoring. In other words, a slightly older car with a lower product score from the judges, could still come out tops in its category if its brand achieves excellent after-sales service ratings.” The deadline is 1 September of every year. This is when the Cars.co.za editorial team sits down and debates the categories and selects the semi-finalists. All cars available in the market on that date are included.
2. Cars are judged within the categories they fall under, against their peers
“There’s no point telling someone a premium sedan is the best car in the country, when that someone is looking for is an affordable pick-up, or a budget car,” explains Oosthuizen. That’s why the Cars.co.za Consumer Awards, sponsored by financing giant WesBank from its second year onward, has 13 product categories spanning from entry-level cars, through crossovers, performance cars to premium SUVs.
“We further reconsider our categories every year and remain flexible to changes in the market,” Oosthuizen explains. “For example, the family sedan market is just about dead, so there’s little point in having a category for that, as you would be speaking to a tiny percentage of car buyers.” This approach explains the rise in crossover/SUV-themed categories, as this is where many buyers are choosing to go for their next purchase.
3. Back-to-back testing
“One of the major challenges, but also arguably one of this process’s greatest strengths, is the fact that we require all 39 finalist vehicles (3 in each of the 13 categories) to be present for 2 days of back-to-back testing at Gerotek, South Africa’s only true testing facility, in early November every year,” says Oosthuizen. “This is a major logistical challenge, but it allows our judges to drive competing vehicles back-to-back, something that most motoring journalists rarely get the opportunity to do. In our view, this is the only way one can get an accurate view of a product – when its rivals are right next to it.”
4. Weighted categories
The so-called “Filters of eligibility” and “Pillars of Success” are unique to the #CarsAwards, Oosthuizen explains. “When the editorial team sits together on the 1st of September, after we’ve determined the categories, we need to reach agreement on what defines that segment, and what the minimum requirements are. Consider the requirement for an electronic stability programme (ESP) in the Compact Family Car segment,” Oosthuizen continues. “The team feels strongly that no compact family car should be sold without that feature, and therefore this tough decision has led to the exclusion of some of that segment’s big sellers. As much as we remain aware of what the market wants, we also need to educate and advise it, so it’s a tough balance.”
Once the filters have been applied, the cars that are left are judged against the “Pillars of Success”, which vary from one category to the next. “When it comes to scoring at Gerotek, judges may score everything out of 5, but in the background our auditors (PwC) will apply weightings,” Oosthuizen says. “For example - in the Family Car segment the practicality of the load bay may be upweighted as much as 3-fold, while it would carry no weighting in the Performance Car segment, etc.” The goal is a scoring system that is in line with consumers’ different requirements in the respective categories.
5. Post-purchase considerations
“This was by far the most challenging target to achieve,” says Oosthuizen. “It’s crucial to include a score that reflects each respective brand’s ability to provide good after-sales service, parts support and so on,” he explains. “After all, when you buy a car, you buy into a brand and enter a relationship that will last a few years.”
To find a solution, Cars.co.za turned to data specialists Lightstone Consumer and the firms co-developed an Ownership Satisfaction Survey that would gather this data. Actual car owners rate their own purchasing experience, after-sales service and more, and all this data is used to calculate the individual brands scores, which account for 50% of each finalist vehicle’s score (with the other 50% coming from the judging test days).
“There are other awards programmes in which consumers can vote, which impact the results, but this is not how the Cars.co.za Consumer Awards – powered by WesBank works. We use data from real car owners, who evaluate the cars they know best – their own – to calculate the brand scores,” says Oosthuizen. “It’s a crucial matter of distinction, because if we were just to open it to public voting, it’s essentially nothing more than a beauty pageant, with the public voting for cars of which they have little to no experience.”
6. A diverse panel of judges
“Motoring journalists tend to be cut from the same cloth” says Oosthuizen. “Yes, they may have experienced a variety of new vehicles, and they are particularly valuable when it comes to evaluating vehicles in more extreme situations, such as the dynamic handling or braking assessments. The reality, however, is that most of them don’t own cars, because they don’t need to. So, our panel also includes non-motoring journalists from various sectors in the media. We have, for example, single moms who look at a family car in a very different way to most motoring journalists, or tech journalists, who really understand the latest infotainment systems,” Oosthuizen explains. “We assign judges to the categories where they are most experienced and/or best suited.”
Another reason why a diverse panel of judges, from all types of media is a benefit, is that the #CarsAwards message is conveyed to a far greater audience than what would’ve been the case if judging was restricted to motoring journalists and their publications only.
7. A ground-breaking Awards event
Another big challenge was to create an awards event night that would a) please the motor industry and b) engage with South African consumers in a contemporary, fun way. “Working with John Vlismas, Belinda Chapman and their team at OGO Productions to create our event (typically the first annual red-carpet event in Gauteng) has been a privilege,” says Oosthuizen. “Right from the first event, the feedback from the industry was that the #CarsAwards presentation was a breath of fresh air. Yes, we hand out special trophies, and yes, there are winners and losers, but every year we try to push the boundaries.”
“We have an event that would compare very favourably with most stage productions at the Frankfurt International Motor Show, for example,” Oosthuizen adds. “Keep in mind that our event is live-streamed on YouTube, so that those who cannot be there on the night, can still experience the glitz and glamour of the show, and there’s a lot of that!”
What’s in store for the 2020 event, to be staged on Thursday 6 February at Kyalami? “Let’s just say that it will be colourful, and we’re working hard to ensure that visually our audience is in for a real treat. We also expect some very high-profile attendees next year, including Bonang Matheba, who’ll be the master of ceremonies. Bonang was recently recognised as “African Influencer of the Year” by the E! People’s Choice Awards in the United States.”
8. Investing in broadcasting the winners
“Many awards programmes end with the handover of a trophy (or trophies), followed by a press release,” Oosthuizen explains. “We decided from the get-go that if our awards programme was to truly have an impact on consumers’ purchasing decisions, it would require significant post-event marketing. This is why you see #CarsAwards billboards across Johannesburg and at airports. That’s why there are ads in magazines and newspapers as well as several online platforms: to inform consumers about which cars they ought to be considering. The brands don’t pay for those ads, it’s part of the awards roll-out and integral to our strategy.”
9. WesBank as a partner
“We had confidence in our recipe in 2015 and managed to host the first #CarsAwards without any sponsor,” says Oosthuizen, “but having WesBank as a partner has given #CarsAwards far greater punch. WesBank is the largest provider of vehicle finance in South Africa, and our awards programme attempts to guide consumers to better purchasing decisions. It’s a perfect fit, really, and we’ve developed a stand-alone website (www.carsawards.co.za), where prospective car buyers can read up on the awards, the judges, the category criteria and put through a finance application, should they wish. We work very closely with the WesBank team to further hone the CarsAwards recipe.”
Since 2019 WesBank’s highly anticipated industry forecast has also been added to the CarsAwards event evening, adding even more value for the media and industries present.
Oosthuizen says the Cars.co.za Consumer Awards – powered by WesBank, will continue to evolve and reflect the local market changes. “We want to thank everyone who has engaged with us in the past 5 years, from OEMs to every car owner that completed a survey. You’ve helped us build an awards programme that we believe will help many buyers,” Oosthuizen concludes.
The winning vehicles in the respective market segments as well as the coveted Brand of the Year title (entirely based on consumer data) of the 2019/2020 Cars.co.za Consumer Awards - Powered by WesBank, will be announced on 6 February 2020.
Visit www.carsawards.co.za to find out more about the categories, criteria, finalists, scoring system and judges.