THAI ONE ON
We take an early version of Holden's new ute off the production line and straight off-road
Glenn Butler gets a Chev-badged Colorado ute straight off the production line and rumbles through the jungles
Weaustralians like our utes. Weinvented the genre, after all. But our love affair with the working truck is nothing compared to the attention the new Holden Colorado is getting on the streets of Thailand’s biggest northern city, Chiang Mai.
We’re in Thailand to drive the new Colorado because that’s where they’re built. In fact most of the utility vehicles sold in Australia — Toyota Hilux, Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi Triton, Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50 — are built here. Thailand is currently the 14th biggest car-making nation and is on track to make the top 10 within three years.
In Thailand, light commercials such as the Colorado and Hilux account for more than six out of 10 new vehicle sales. In Australia, they account for 14 per cent (and growing) of the market. Unlike Australia, the trays of many of the utilities we pass are loaded with people, in some cases a dozen are crammed in, shielding their eyes against the wind and dust.
Those not carrying human cargo are weighed down by bags of produce stacked sometimes twice the height of the labouring vehicle.
There are building materials and market goods, bags of rice, and produce of all kinds, much of which I fail to identify.
Pineapples seem particularly popular in this region and along one stretch of road we pass dozens of vendors, each one a pineapple’s throw from the last. Their rickety bamboo stands huddle beside the road and the sweet smell quickly invades the Colorado’s cabin through my open window.
Driving windows-down may seem strange when it’s 38 degrees outside and so humid you can almost see the water in the air. I try driving windows-up with the aircon on but when I step out of the cab I start sweating like a sumo wrestler doing push-ups in a sauna.
It’s hot work but it allows the sights, sounds and smells of Thailand to waft in. During the seven days of Carsguide’s visit, the
Bangkok Post reported 320 road fatalities from 3129 accidents, the vast majority of which were moped and motorcycle riders. Of the 26 million vehicles on Thailand’s roads, 17 million are of the two-wheeled motorised variety. Almost five million are utes and about 4.5 million are passenger cars.
Our route into town is lined with spectators, curious about the 20 spanking new Colorados flying past. Some are single cabs, some space cabs with extra storage behind the seats, and some extra cabs with four doors and a second row — the main benefit from the Colorado’s 350mm increase in length.
Some are rear-drive, some are 4WD, but all are what Holden calls High Stance bodies, and all are diesels. And this convoy certainly stands out among the seething traffic.
Perhaps the police escort has something to do with our appeal. Four motorcycle cops have been with us since we left Chiang Rai, 260km northeast, three hours ago, and have done a sterling job maintaining our progress through the chaos.
They block intersections, wave overloaded cars and trucks off the road ahead and stop pedestrians and cyclists in their tracks. Lights flashing and sirens screaming, they leapfrog us at speed to beat us to the next logjam.
The police escort didn’t stay with us the whole day, because part of our journey took in dirt roads that wound through the hills around Chiang Rai towards the Burmese border.
These roads test the Colorado’s off-road mettle, which Holden believes will play a big part in the car’s sales appeal in Australia. In fact, Holden’s banking on the Colorado picking up its act in all areas of the market — recreation, workhorse, fleet and private.
A dial near the handbrake on4wdcolorados cycles between rear-drive, 4WD high range, and4wdlow range, the last for particularly gnarly conditions. Nothing we come across on the off-road section really troubles the high-riding ute, which picks its way along like a surefooted mountain goat.
Over two days it becomes apparent that the biggest areas of improvement are the Colorado’s drivetrain and interior. There will be two engine options in Australia, both diesel — less than 5 per cent of all4wdlight commercials are petrol.
Wedrove the stronger 2.8-litre turbo diesel which will be in 25 of the 26 Australian variants when the Colorado hits showrooms in