What’s big, can carry a tonne and the whole family? Answer: Australia’s favourite vehicle
The ute, the tradie’s transport of choice, is climbing the sales charts to challenge the Commodore and the Mazda3.
IF AUSTRALIA were synonymous with any sort of passenger vehicle, it once was for rear-drive, big engined cars. No longer. Now it’s utes. And these utes are not the longstanding Falcon or Commodore derivatives – rather they are one-tonne capacity, tray-backed and increasingly dual-cab workhorses, typified by but by no means limited to Toyota’s ubiquitous HiLux.
As the market-leading HiLux and its swelling ranks of rivals become more comfortable and even family friendly, Falcon and Commodore utes are losing traction. Building sites are becoming the preserve of the former, while the latter are largely now left to corner the smaller but still lucrative sport ute market with highperformance models and special edition packages.
Last month, the HiLux was Australia’s third best-selling passenger vehicle – of all types – selling just under 3000. Mitsubishi’s Triton was seventh overall, Nissan’s Navara 12th (1427) and Ford’s soon-to-be-replaced Ranger clocked up 1274 sales of mainly four-wheel-drive models— at this rate it will soon overhaul the ailing Falcon.
Australia is now one of the world’s leading markets for one-tonne work utes, a fact underscored by Ford and Mazda deciding to stage the global reveal of the all-new Ranger and BT-50 at last October’s Australian International Motor Show (subsequently dubbed the Sydney Ute Muster due to the number of working vehicles displayed).
From 2000 to 2005, demand for one-tonne utilities soared almost 60 per cent— some three times market growth. Two-wheel drive utes led the early charge— now it’s fourwheel drive variants helping utes take almost 15 per cent of the total market with more than 150,000 sales last year.
At the front of the pack, the HiLux has moved from 15 per cent to 25 per cent share of the ute segment through the decade but the status quo is now being challenged by a growing number of rivals from around the globe. India’s Mahindra, Korea’s Ssangyong, China’s Great Wall and now Germany’s Volkswagen have all joined the fray, in what has until recently been a Japanesedominated battleground.
With the mining boom continuing to drive our now famously two-speed’’ economy, and revitalised rivals from Holden (Colorado), Isuzu (D-Max), Ford (Ranger) and Mazda (BT-50) due in the next 12 months, the sector still looks to have plenty left in the tank.
Apart from the growing choice of makes and models, increased affordability has also been a major driver. The HiLux and the D-Max are two of several best selling utes now manufactured in Thailand, their sharper price tags reflecting the benefits of the Free Trade Agreement between our two countries.
Australia] is one of the strongest ute markets in the world, definitely worth pursuing and one of the most competitive in the world,’’ says Isuzu Ute’s Richard Power.
Reinforcing that line, Great Wall utes arrived in 2009 and, despite having only petrol engines in what is a dieseldominated category (its oiler is coming later this year), there are now some 6000 Chinese- built workhorses on the road, paving the way for the marque’s passenger cars.
It doesn’t hurt [the brand] that the ute operates in areas where it’s seen to be working hard and [is] durable,’’says Great Wall’s Daniel Cotterill.
Today there are 14 models in the two-wheel drive ute segment and 15 four-wheel drive utes. Multiply these by three body styles in some cases and several drivetrain combinations and the choice is bewildering.
In terms of comfortable single-cab, two-wheel drive utes, the Ford Ranger-Mazda
BT50 cab-chassis twins (from $24,490 and $24,065) are h to go past for value, especia as runout deals hit showroo before all-new models later year. The 2985cc turbo dies a smooth, well-packaged workers (if still with underdash handbrake lever) with 1383kg payload, three-year warranty and three-star saf