The bronze-colored trophy was air-freighted in a shock-proof wooden crate from New York City to Tokyo and then transported some 500 miles by bullet train to be awarded in a special centenary celebration ceremony at Mazda’s headquarters in Hiroshima. That was the reformatted delivery process of the World Car Design of the Year trophy for 2020, an accolade won by the Mazda3, after its normal platform, the New York International Auto Show, was canceled for this year. Could such trophy presentations signal the future of award ceremonies in the car industry in a post-pandemic world?

The trophy was originally meant to be presented to Mazda’s head of global design, Ikuo Maeda, and the Mazda3’s chief designer, Yasutake Tsuchida, at a high-profile prize-giving ceremony that opens the New York International Auto Show in April. But after that show was postponed and then eventually canceled, a new method had to be found to get the trophy to its rightful owners. As representative and executive committee director of the World Car Awards, I made the 500-mile journey last week on the 170mph Shinkansen bullet train to Hiroshima to present Maeda and Tsuchida with their long-awaited award.

To make the most of the closed-to-the-public ceremony, WCA and Mazda collaborated to broadcast the presentation and 100th year celebration live on Zoom to its 90-plus jurors around the world.

Conducted with social distancing protocols in the lobby of the firm’s headquarters, Maeda said, “I am thrilled to receive this design award for our Mazda3, especially when you think that it was voted on by jurors from around the world, making it a truly global award. And of course, we are also humbled that our CX-30 placed in the top 3 in the world in this same category. Given that this is our centenary, I’d have to say that 2020 was truly Mazda’s year, even if times are tough.” To highlight the celebratory mood, Mazda displayed a special Nardi version of the first generation 1989 Mazda MX-5, the 1969 rotary-powered Luce Coupe and the latest CX-30 SUV, in addition to the design trophy winning Mazda3.

In a world where the coronavirus pandemic has caused the cancelation of almost every auto show and trophy presentation, to be able to conduct an in-person trophy presentation was a rare treat. Shows canceled this year include the Geneva Motor Show, the Detroit Auto Show, the New York Auto Show, and the L.A. Auto Show, scheduled for November, is looking doubtful. As for 2021, the Geneva show has already been canceled, further casting a shadow over car shows. 

If the truth be known, auto shows, and the various trophy ceremonies that often accompany them, were already facing challenges before the pandemic hit as an increasing number of carmakers were finding more effective ways of utilizing their multi-million dollar marketing budgets to promote new cars and technology. When Volvo, Jaguar Land Rover and others withdrew from the Geneva show over the last three years, organizers started to worry. 

What shocked the industry however, was when Frankfurt Auto Show organizers announced that their show would be withdrawn from the international calendar altogether after news came forth that exhibitors at the 2019 Frankfurt show had dropped from 994 in 2017 to 800 in 2019.

We in the industry, and thousands of car enthusiasts as well, hope that conditions improve and that a vaccine is found by November, thus enabling the L.A. show to go ahead. If that is not possible, then let’s hope for some return to normalcy by at least spring next year, to allow the New York Auto Show to take place.

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