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Best Trucks are Awarded at Texas Truck Rodeo

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by Autotrader November 2010

If Texas were Hollywood, the Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA) might be likened to the Hollywood Foreign Press. And, similar to the Foreign Press’ annual Golden Globes award show, which started small, the Texas Auto Writers annual examination of all that is new in trucks and SUVs began quietly in the fall of 1993.

Rather quickly, it garnered the attention of the automakers responsible for the sale and production of virtually anything with ‘truck’ or ‘utility’ attached to its descriptive. It doesn’t hurt that, as a marketplace, the state of Texas absorbs as many new pickups on an annual basis as most entire sales regions. Or that – even today – Ford sells more F-Series pickups in Texas annually than importers like Volvo or Mitsubishi sell throughout the entire country.

In its eighteenth consecutive year almost sixty trucks and SUVs were put in front of approximately forty members of TAWA (the event is not open to the public). Located at Knibbe Ranch, just north of San Antonio, the newest of the new in the truck and SUV lineups are juxtaposed against one of the oldest family-owned acreages in all of Central Texas. And with the Knibbe homestead located but a few miles from Interstate 35, the ranch’s off-road ambience just off the main highway.

While a vehicle’s off-road prowess is – given typical usage by truck and SUV buyers – overemphasized at the Truck Rodeo, the evaluation is certainly more entertaining than the 10-minute loop of rural asphalt that typically comprises the on-road evaluation. Dotting the Knibbe site are rock-strewn slopes, man-made culverts and an axle-deep river – if you stay close to the river’s bank. The few truck-based SUVs and pickups take it all in stride, while the vast majority of the car-based sport utes proceed with the evaluation using – it’s hoped – the necessary caution.

On the cusp of a rebound in the pickup market, those manufacturers responsible for the highest volumes – and profits – were much in evidence. Ford had (seemingly) an entire floor of its Dearborn executive headquarters on hand, led by Mark Fields, President of the Americas. Ram Trucks, the Chrysler division you may remember simply as Dodge, brought its CEO, Fred Diaz. GM’s chairman, Ed Whitacre, also dropped by for lunch.

At the event’s conclusion, ballots were gathered, locked up and counted by the TAWA Board – and interested parties – on the following day. And for the Chrysler Corporation, whose redesigned Ram pickup took home the first Truck of Texas trophy in 1993 (and had not appeared often in the results since then), the final tally was nothing short of amazing. With Chrysler Corporation wins in Full-Size Pickup, Luxury Pickup, Full-Size SUV and Midsize SUV, Chrysler execs – and their sweater wearing chairman – should be popping with pride.

Those results were formally awarded at a Houston-area gathering on November 12th. And although most results were predictable, a few surprises crept in, helped in no small part by awards given in fourteen distinct truck and SUV categories, plus overall awards given to Truck, SUV and CUV of Texas, Truck Line of Texas and Outstanding Feature.

Among those entered in full-size, midsize or compact SUV categories, the vehicles taking home the bacon were Jeep’s Grand Cherokee, Wrangler and Subaru Forester, respectively. And in the luxury SUV segment, Cadillac’s Escalade Hybrid – all $90K of it – grabbed the full-size win, while VW’s new Touareg Hybrid won its midsize category.

The CUV category was dominated by Nissan’s new Juke (compact), Ford Edge (midsize) and Chevrolet Traverse (full-size). Luxury CUV winners were Lincoln’s MKT in full-size, and Cadillac SRX Turbo in midsize.

At a Truck Rodeo, the biggest buzz is around the trucks, and this year’s entries didn’t disappoint. As noted earlier, in the end it was a Chrysler Corp. sweep, with Ram capturing full-size pickup (1500 Outdoorsman), luxury pickup (Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn) and heavy duty (Ram 2500 Power Wagon). It was – in a word – a truckin’ trifecta, and we believe it’s the first win of this magnitude by any manufacturer.

Toyota took home the midsize pickup prize with the Tacoma. No other manufacturer was represented in the category. To Toyota’s credit, it is still very much in the midsize pickup game. For the consumer wanting a choice, however, those choices (Nissan’s Frontier, Dodge’s Dakota and Suzuki’s Equator) are almost off the radar, with no apparent marketing push by those responsible for providing that push.

The biggest trophies were given to the biggest winners. CUV of Texas was awarded to the Nissan Juke, which must make Buddy Holly proud. SUV of Texas was taken by Jeep’s Grand Cherokee, and Truck of Texas was given to the Ram Laramie Longhorn. Finally, Truck Line of Texas was given to Ford, at which point the attending Ford execs kissed their respective sisters.

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Best Trucks are Awarded at Texas Truck Rodeo - Autotrader