This year hasn’t seen the best performance for the automobile industry. Passenger car sales have dragged on, barely hitting two-digit growth percentages for many months. But, that hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of the industry, which has continued its march forward with new launches, though at a slightly slower pace. Some of the most interesting new cars and sports utility vehicles (SUVs) made their way to the market in 2018. Many of them represent a significant step up in the maturity of the companies and brands.

This Indian Car of the Year (ICOTY) award has always been a good barometer of the domestic car industry and the shortlist for the 2019 award was no different. Yes, there were fewer cars competing for the ICOTY this year. But product plans are often finalised years in advance and so, they aren’t connected to the current state of the market. There were only eight contenders in the list this year and all of them made it to the final shortlist, versus 13 contenders and nine in the ICOTY shortlist for last year. Some cars that have been launched after the cut-off date of November 30 haven’t made to this year’s ICOTY shortlist. So, while the Tata Nexon made it to last year’s list, the Harrier, which is yet to be commercially launched, wasn’t part of ICOTY 2019. Similarly, Nissan Kicks too will only be included in the list for ICOTY 2020.

Cars and SUVs that have either been manufactured locally or assembled from completely knocked down kits in an Indian facility, and have been commercially launched in the market here before November of that year qualify for the award and will be considered for the contenders list. ICOTY rules as per the constitution also imply that vehicles cannot be minor model modifications or mid-cycle face-lifts for existing models. If a previous generation of the model is already in the market, then the new one has to be extensively reworked, re-engineered and with new powertrains. The vehicles are then selected to form an initial list from which a final shortlist is chosen based on a range of parameters. Both the lists for ICOTY 2019 remained the same eight contenders.

The cars and SUVs that were part of ICOTY 2019’s shortlist included the Honda CR-V and Amaze, the Maruti Suzuki Swift and Ertiga, the Mahindra Marazzo and Alturas G4, new Hyundai Santro, and the Toyota Yaris. On one of the rare occasions, three manufacturers had two vehicles each in the shortlist, with the Alturas G4 and the Ertiga making it to market just in the nick of time. The short-listed cars are voted for and judged based on multiple parameters such as price, fuel efficiency, design, comfort, safety, features, performance, practicality, value-for-money proposition, innovation and technology, and suitability based on Indian consumers’ preferences and driving conditions.

The big change during this year’s ICOTY jury round was the move to a new venue, which turned out to be the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida near Delhi. Being a Formula 1 circuit is one aspect of the venue, but none of the cars were evaluated on the track for voting purposes. It provided the right atmosphere for conducting the voting process; and it also provided an opportunity for some of the latest luxury cars to be taken out and experienced in the most ideal conditions we could have ever asked for.

After the voting and counting process was completed, the Suzuki Swift was adjudged the winner of the ICOTY 2019 with a total of 125 points. The runner-up was the Hyundai Santro with a tally of 96 points. And the second runner-up was the Honda Amaze with 77 points. This was a significant win for the Swift, with a large point differential compared to the nearest competitor in the final tally. All three generations of the Swift have won the ICOTY award. The Maruti Suzuki hatch has sold more than two million units since its launch in May 2005.

In addition to yours truly on behalf of the BusinessLine , the other members in the ICOTY jury included Yogendra Pratap and Rahul Ghosh on behalf of Auto Today , Dhruv Behl and Ishan Raghava from AutoX , Aspi Bhathena and Sarmad Kadiri from Car India , Sirish Chandran and Aninda Sardar from Evo India , Karthik Ware and Raunak Ajinkya from Motoring World , Rohit Paradkar and Abhay Varma from Overdrive , Girish Karkera and Agasti Kaulgi from TopGear India , Pablo Chaterji from Man’s World , Vikrant Singh and Hani Musthafa. In all, nine different publications and media brands are represented in the ICOTY 2019 jury.

The ICOTY 2019 award and certificate were presented to representatives from Maruti Suzuki India by Dr Raghupati Singhania, Chairman and Managing Director, JK Tyre and Industries at a glittering ceremony in Mumbai last week. JK Tyre has been the official sponsor for the award ceremony right from the inception of the ICOTY in 2006.