'Despite its price, it deserved to win' - Debunking why the I-Pace is the 2020 SA Car of the Year


Earlier in April, the Jaguar I-Pace was crowned the 2020 AutoTrader South African Car of the Year (COTY).

Though the win was a first for Jaguar Land Rover in South Africa, it rubbed the local buying public the wrong way. Readers were quick to make their displeasure and disappointment known, and some even went as far as to call the competition's bluff.

While the public is entitled to their opinion, the South African Guild of Motor Journalists (SAGMJ) made sure that the judging criteria is fair and just. Every car entered into the competition is there on merit and because it complied with the required standards. The I-Pace, too, met it, giving it just as much chance at victory as, for instance, a Toyota Corolla or Volkswagen T-Cross. 

Perhaps one of the most damning factors counting against the I-Pace is its price. At R1.7-million, it is far beyond the reach of the average South African buyer, but pricing is not the overall determining factor.

jaguar i pace

2020 SA Car of the Year, Jaguar I-Pace. Image: Motorpress

A win is possible

Wheel24 reached out to Dirk Gallowitz, a COTY juror and SAGMJ member. Pressed on how a vehicle that sells in such low numbers could be the winner, Gallowitz said that this was an area where the car was heavily penalised.

He says: "The sales figure for each finalist in COTY is determined by an independent authority and is filtered into the scoring system as one of the criteria to determine the final points scored by each finalist eventually. The system will automatically 'penalise' an entrant on a sliding scale that becomes heavier as sales go lower.

"Price is also automatically penalised by the scoring system as the selling price surpasses a certain amount. For the I-Pace to still end up as the winner, despite being heavily penalised in both these categories, indicates a consistent high score by all jurors in most of the scoring criteria."

 jaguar i pace

2020 SA Car of the Year, Jaguar I-Pace. Image: Motorpress

Can you justify the price?

This is not the first time that a car with a sticker price of more than R1.0-million has won the competition, but Gallowitz reiterates that pricing, though important, is not the only deciding factor. He recalls how for three years in a row, a Porsche was crowned the winner.

This affected the perceived credibility of the competition, but Gallowitz applauds the COTY competition for bouncing back from this.

On the I-Pace, he notes: "At just over R1.7-million, the I-Pace is unfortunately out of reach for most South African car buyers. In my opinion, it would have been more popular and 'relevant' if, for example, the T-Cross or Corolla hatch was crowned the 2020 winner.

"I need to reiterate our COTY philosophy to reward excellence in motoring. As jurors, we score each finalist against its competitors available in SA, according to a diverse but relevant criteria that is measured on a scale of 1 - 10, where 1 is 'Very poor' and 10 'Exceptional.' One of the categories in this year's competition was "Affordability/Value for Money", and jurors had to score on three sub-categories where they had to measure the I-Pace against its rivals on:

1. How fit for purpose do you consider this vehicle to be? (e.g off-road ability if 4x4; dynamics if sports car; practicality if family car);

2. Price competitiveness to direct rivals;

3. Overall impression of value for money.

"So yes, the price is an essential aspect of the COTY evaluation as the above scoring requirements show, but it is put into context against its direct rivals available in SA."


2020 SA Car of the Year, Jaguar I-Pace. Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond

The judging criteria

Gallowitz says that in the 35 years that the COTY competition has been running, a winner has never received unanimous support from industry, the public, and COTY jurors. Despite this, the competition always aims to reward automotive excellence, in every sense of the word.

Every year's judging criteria is re-evaluated by the SAGMJ and COTY committee, and countless hours go into fine-tuning both the election process and scoring procedure.

Gallowitz says: "The motoring industry has evolved tremendously over the 35 years COTY has been running, and with mobility fast moving into a future away from the traditional, the SAGMJ, now more than ever, has to re-position COTY for future relevance and sustainability.  

"The 2020 COTY winner, an all-electric Jaguar I-Pace, could not be a more fitting choice for the times we are living in."

jaguar i-pace

2020 SA Car of the Year, Jaguar I-Pace. Image: Motorpress

The future is now

While South Africa, and Africa as a whole, might not yet be ready for electric vehicles (EVs) from an infrastructures' point of view, the I-Pace is more than just the 2020 COTY winner. It's also an indication of what we can expect in the future from the automotive world.

Mobility will change and, unfortunately, so, too, will the COTY competition and the automobile industry as a whole.

Gallowitz concludes: "I, like my fellow jurors, scored the Jaguar I-Pace like we scored all the other finalists competing in the SAGMJ AutoTrader 2020 South African Car of the Year: with fairness. Using the well-planned diverse and relevant criteria before us, we judged without prejudice and not knowing who will become the COTY winner.

"As a die-hard petrolhead, I am somewhat allergic and sceptical about the practicality and relevance of EVs in SA, but the I-Pace overwhelmed with what is offered as a package. It was, apart from "affordability/price," where I believed all the jurors scored it low, the best car by far among the 2020 COTY finalists evaluated.

"I believe the Jaguar I-Pace is a deserving winner and worth the honour of being crowned 2020 SAGMJ Car of the Year, and the right car to take the competition into the future."

jaguar i-pace

2020 SA Car of the Year, Jaguar I-Pace. Image: Motorpress

No one will ever be happy

Wheels24 editor, Janine Van der Post, one of the 26 jury members, says: "I can't say I am too surprised that the Jaguar I-Pace took the crown. It was a big favourite among the jury members during the testing days earlier in March. It's an incredible car, and even more difficult to fault. In terms of its performance and technology, it's a well-deserved winner based on international standards.

It's a fantastic vehicle, but should it have won the 2020 South African Car of the Year competition? In my personal opinion, no.

While I scored it relatively high, it was not my top choice. Two specific reasons stand out as Dirk has mentioned: one being its incredibly unattainable price tag for most South Africans. And two, the number of models sold locally every month. While the COTY is scored according to a predetermined criteria list, it is not compared directly against the other finalists in the competition but rather direct rivals in its segment. 

And here's the first problem. The I-Pace is in such a league of its own, that there is nothing else in our market to compare it to because there is nothing else like it readily available. The Ford Ranger Raptor was a top pick of mine, and it too borders on R1.0-million. BUT, given how Saffers love bakkies, it would have been an easier pill to swallow if it had to win. 

Affordability, value for money, and overall excellence are three of the factors that the cars are scored on. While I scored the I-Pace quite high, it's not affordable at all - especially to the Joe Public of SA. And, I always feel the COTY winner should reflect a vehicle that's more suited to the current situation of our country, and its people. 

I would have been absolutely stoked if the Citroën C3 Aircross, Peugeot 5008, Suzuki Swift Sport, or VW T-Cross claimed the title. Heck, even the little Hyundai Atos! Excuse the pun, but those are the people's cars right now.

But let me tell you one thing, no matter if any of the other cars would have won, we'd still get complaints about it because that's just how human beings are wired. Sadly, we can't make everyone happy all at once."

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