The show must go on, even in the face of COVID-19.
The novel coronavirus has derailed life as we know it, so businesses everywhere are pivoting, perhaps adjusting their expectations while trying to get the job done and being mindful of the need for social distancing to keep the lethal virus from spreading.
For Wards, we’re able to do many of our jobs – as analysts, data researchers and website editors – from the safety and comfort of our own homes.
But it’s awfully hard to pick this year’s Wards 10 Best Interiors winners when members of the editorial team are unable to climb in and out of cars, fiddle with the knobs, try out the seats, touch the materials and get close enough to make educated assessments about fit & finish.
So here’s our plan: We’re taking the process virtual.
Most automakers continue providing fleet vehicles for evaluation, while taking extreme precautions in sanitizing every vehicle upon delivery and pickup.
In normal times, each editor would spend a day or so in each vehicle, then hand the keys to another editor for seat time. Clearly, that won’t work so long as COVID-19 is such a threat.
Instead, each vehicle delivered will be evaluated in person by one editor. Using our Microsoft Teams communication portal, that editor will use his phone to shoot live video inside the vehicle while discussing features relevant to our judging criteria.
Meanwhile, the seven other editorial judges will be watching on their laptops from home, able to hear the commentary and ask questions along the way and sample the interior’s features remotely via the hands of the moderator.
The sessions will be recorded for future reference and some of them may be incorporated into videos made to honor the winners. Several automakers have agreed to conduct videoconferences between their designers and our editors to help provide further background on the entries and inform our decisions.
Is this the best way to evaluate vehicles? Hardly. But we’ve agreed as a staff this is the safest and most responsible way to proceed until Michigan’s lockdown lifts.
We already started in February and early March evaluating several vehicles from a pool of 35 nominees for Wards 10 Best Interiors, and the Plan B we’ve devised will allow us to complete our testing in time to announce winners in mid-June.
Also in June, we will be evaluating vehicles for Wards 10 Best User Experiences, borrowing heavily from the information gathered about 10 Best Interiors nominees. There will be some overlap in the nominee pool for each competition.
If the lockdown persists in June, our remote-testing protocol will remain in place for UX judging. But we’re trying to be optimistic the COVID-19 threat will have subsided by then, so editors can climb into cars once again for 10 Best UX.
We will pick 10 Best UX winners in early July and reveal the list in mid-month.
The trophies for both 10 Best Interiors and 10 Best UX will be awarded at a new super-conference planned for Aug. 18-20 at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, MI.
That event brings together the WardsAuto Interiors Conference, WardsAuto UX Conference, TU-Automotive Detroit and the TU ADAS & Autonomous Vehicles conference.