And the Motor Trend Car of the Year award goes to the gas engine driven…wait, what’s that? It has an all-electric motor and is a zero emissions vehicle? Yup, that’s right – Motor Trend awarded one of the most coveted “of the year” markers to the Tesla Model S, likely surprising many industry individuals, while at the same time adding to a growing case of awards this electric vehicle has already been given.

The Tesla Motors Model S stood out in a crowd, Motor Trend said, which contained “25 distinct models and 45 total cars counting variants” that it picked through over two weeks of self described “solid testing.” One of those it beat out was another electric car, the Coda Sedan, which at the time we thought was a dark horse entry for the award. Rather it was the Tesla or the Coda that won, it would still have netted the same result – “the first COTY winner in the 64-year history of the award not powered by an internal combustion engine.”

Tesla Motors Model S
Tesla Motors Model S (image via Tesla Motors)

Motor Trend, in making its decision, noted in a separate blog post by one of its editors that the electric vehicle is “a genuinely remarkable achievement bred of optimism and entrepreneurial spirit. It is, therefore, a quintessentially American automobile.” That is quite a reason indeed, despite the fact he also noted “we can’t tell you anything about the long-term durability or reliability of the Model S. There is simply no available data to guide us.”

So then what truly makes it car of the year in the eyes of Motor Trend? It really seems to come down to the fact this vehicle is a best of breed, both in what it offers and what it represents. It isn’t something the average American will be able to afford, given its starting price tag of over $58,500 before federal tax credits, but the vehicle oozes ingenuity and creative flair that’s coupled with some amazing technical specifications which represent what the green car segment could be capable of as it goes more mainstream.

Motor Trend, in summary, found the Model S strong in areas of “engineering excellence,” “advancement in design,” “efficiency,” “safety,” “value” and “performance of intended function.” This latter item stands out the most, with the automotive media outlet saying that

The mere fact the Tesla Model S exists at all is a testament to innovation and entrepreneurship, the very qualities that once made the American automobile industry the largest, richest, and most powerful in the world. That the 11 judges unanimously voted the first vehicle designed from the wheels up by a fledgling automaker the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year should be cause for celebration. America can still make things. Great things.

That’s quite a ringing endorsement. The question is – how does it ultimately help a niche automotive segment many consumers still feel uncomfortable getting into for a variety of reasons? This remains to be seen, but as more vehicles like the Model S and what it represents emerge, it is likely that discomfort will slowly fade into the annals of history, especially as price goes down and quality comes up.

“Our aspiration with the Model S was to show that an electric car truly can be better than any gasoline car, which is a critical step towards the widespread adoption of sustainable transport,” said Elon Musk, Tesla Motors co-founder and CEO, in a statement. “Nothing illustrates this more clearly than winning Motor Trend’s Car of the Year by unanimous decision against a field of exceptional competitors.”