COVER STORY

What’s big, can carry a tonne and the whole fam­ily? An­swer: Aus­tralia’s favourite ve­hi­cle

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Inside - BRUCE McMA­HON bruce.mcma­hon@cars­guide.com.au

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

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