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What it means for Tesla to be our Car of the Year, and why it matters

Motoramic

What it means for Tesla to be our Car of the Year, and why it mattersOur selection of the Tesla Model S as Yahoo! Autos 2013 Car of the Year has stirred an overwhelming response online in just a few hours. While many agree, we thought it'd be best to tackle the criticisms from the commentariat in one place. If you think we're short-sighted, bought off or didn't think this through, this story's for you. Let's tackle them as they come; these are actual comments from actual readers:

"How about a car people can afford?"

Yes, the Tesla Model S is one expensive car today; cheaper versions will start closer to $50,000, which is still well north of the typical $30,000 average sticker price of a new vehicle. But a car at any price level has to justify its value, and there are plenty of $20,000 models that aren't worth half that. The Tesla Model S outhandles most of the competition in its price range, but more importantly, there's nothing more advanced available at ten times its sticker. It's too expensive for most, but the technology inside won't become more affordable if it doesn't sell at luxury-car prices to start -- and there's no other automaker outside of Tesla promising mass-market electric vehicles in sizable numbers.

"How can Yahoo be so confident with this model, they don't know yet how reliable it will be? It will take several years before it can be totally evaluated. Another marketing article for a car company, I am sure Tesla is behind this."

That's a risk with any new model -- there's already a recall out on the 2013 Nissan Altima, which has been on sale a matter of weeks. No auto reviewer can accurately gauge reliability, because it takes months of living with a new car to see how it stands up. We have to measure the vehicles as they sit and ride while we have them, and even the glitches we've seen with the Tesla haven't been severe enough to change our opinion. (And the Tesla has far fewer mechanical parts that can spawn failures than a traditional gas-powered car). If Teslas start suffering from the kind of never-ending bugs we've seen in Fisker Karmas, we'll write about it.

And it's fair to ask about what's behind an award like this, given the financial shenanigans they've spawned over the years. So pick your stack of religious texts or Ricky Gervais movies; I'll swear and affirm on any of them that we made this choice with no outside influence or consideration.

"If I'm going to spend 50k on a car, just give me the '13 GT-500. At least that way I get all the bang for the buck that I can get in horsepower, speed, and fun to drive. And above all else...its AMERICAN"

Teslas are built in Fremont, Calif.

"Boring choice."

This will be the comment from those inside the industry, who disdain the whole exercise of picking one vehicle of the year or demand it follow ever more arcane logic. Yes, the Subaru BRZ will make a great drift car; the Honda CR-V looks really good in a mall parking lot; the Ford Shelby GT500 and Chevy Camaro ZL1 make enough torque to turn an aircraft carrier. Lots of new cars have lots of advantages, because most new vehicles have to be better than what they replace to even have a chance at success.

But that's why this kind of award matters more than ever: the value of rewarding those who push for excellence over incremental improvements. Like the judges at the Westminster Kennel Club show, we end up measuring wildly different breeds of vehicles against each other and weighing their shortfalls accordingly; should we really care if the BRZ can't haul kids, or the CR-V wouldn't get noticed unless it's on fire? And like that best in show, our car of the year goes to the one model that stands furthest above the field.

There's never been a car like the Tesla Model S. It's a real car, not a science experiment, with a real business plan and a viable chance of success. Tesla has such a head start at the moment there's nothing like the Model S coming from any other automaker over the next couple of years. Within a few months this may seem like a boring choice -- but the onus will be on every outlet that chooses something besides the Tesla Model S as their Car of the Year to explain why it's not.