9 Jan 2014

2014 What Car? Awards (I Was There)

Last night I attended the What Car? Awards.  It's a rather swanky bash at the Grosvenor Hotel in London where the magazine hands out awards to various cars.

What Car? Award car of the year 2014 Nissan Qashqai
A Nissan Qashqai bursts out from behind Kate Silverton and Chas Hallet

I received an invite out of the blue from Haymarket just before Christmas.  Looking at the website it seemed a dinner suit was in order.  Not being in the business of going to events that require a DJ I don't own one, so had to buy one.

DJ bought and the day came.  Drove to Hammersmith, parked in that huge multi-storey just west of the horrible roundabout in the centre and caught the tube to Hyde Park Corner, then walked from the tube up Park Lane to the Grosvenor Hotel.

Well actually I was early so walked around a bit taking in the various cars dotted around.  I saw my first BMW i3 in a BMW showroom (bit tall and weird looking), a McLaren MP4 12C and half a dozen Range Rovers at the Dorchester and an all white Merc AMG G-Class near the American embassy.

The start time arrived and I walked in the Ballroom entrance at the Grosvenor, checked my coat in and was herded though to a vast room for 'drinks' (which was an orange juice as I was driving).  The first half hour was strange because I didn't recognise a single person.  So I stood on the sidelines and tried to spot a few faces, but failed spectacularly.

Happily Tom from Haymarket came to my aid (cheers Tom) and we chatted until dinner was announced and we all filed through to the ballroom - which was even more vast than the drinks room.

I then started to spot people - people I know from manufacturer PR teams and a few faces from TV and magazines.

It seems the entire industry was in that room.  I spotted Mike Brewer and Ian Callum.  I said hello and chatted with Scott from Toyota and Martin from Volvo and noted that Henry Catchpole from Evo was easily the tallest (and hairiest) person there.

Our table was in the middle at the back but we weren't too far from the stage. I knew a couple of people at the table, and recognised Jonny Smith from Fifth Gear.  Turns out he's a really nice, down to earth chap.

Chas Hallet of What Car? introduced the evening and then a slap-up dinner was served.  An hour later Jack Whitehall (billed as 'Cabaret') came on stage and did a turn.  He was pretty funny - just the right balance for such an audience.

And then the awards started.  Dinner had over-run so the hosts, Kate Silverton and Chas Hallet, rattled through the contenders and awards.  Each time a winner was announced a cheer arose from a table somewhere in the room.  Manufacturers (and other interested parties) pay for tables and the entire PR team plus managers turn up to cheer on their cars.

You can find the winners here on the What Car? website.  There weren't any major surprises other than the Jaguar F-Type didn't win anything - which seemed odd.  The Porsche Boxster won best sports car.  The Boxster is a great car but the F-Type probably pips it as a road, rather than track, car.

The overall winner was the new Nissan Qashqai.  Given it's sales success (2 million sold to date), the fact it is designed and manufactured in England and that it essentially created a new category in the market it was a deserved winner.

Although I'd probably have gone with the astonishingly good new Range Rover Sport.

The awards finished at 11pm and at 11.30pm I sidled out, having chatted with a few more people.  The bar was open until 1.30am and select people had been invited to the Audi aftershow party, which went on 'til 5am last year.

It was a great night.  It's easy to be cynical about awards but it adds a feel-good factor to a great British industry which employs hundreds of thousands of people.

Many thanks to Haymarket for the invite.

By Matt Hubbard