Why Australia's ute love is stronger than ever

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Why Australia's ute love is stronger than ever 27 September 2015 by Joshua Dowling · CarsGuide Divorced dads, defacto couples and families are driving record ute sales, as the latest workhorses have become tamed for the urban jungle.Sales of four-wheel-drive pick-ups - or "utes" as we know them - have doubled in the past 10 years, the latest figures show.Utes are now the second-best selling vehicle type behind small cars -- and we've just had five new models arrive in the past five months. The first all-new Toyota HiLux in 10 years arrives in showrooms this week, hot on the heels of four arch rivals. Never before has so much new metal arrived so close together.Marketing experts say new-car buyers are embracing utes more than ever before because they suit the changing make up of the average Australian family. “Utes are increasingly being used as family cars, even if the definition of family is different from before,” says David Chalke from AustraliaScan, a market research firm which monitors changing consumer trends. “Once upon a time divorced dads drove ute sales but there are fewer divorces today because there are fewer marriages,” says Chalke. “However, there is growth in the number of defacto couples, often with kids from a former relationship.” The latest utes are packed with safety features and creature comforts but blokes, says Chalke, still buy them for image as much as practical reasons. “A ute tells people ‘I’m a man from the land’ when I might in fact have an office job,” says Chalke.While the iconic two-door Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore utes will be gone forever once their factories close by the end of 2017, Australians have voted with their wallets to make imported four-door pick-ups regular Top 10 sellers.Divorced dads, defacto couples and families are driving record ute sales."The ute market has changed dramatically," said Tony Cramb, the sales and marketing director of Toyota Australia. "A lot of people use them as family cars these days."As with the original Ford ute in 1934 - created after a Gippsland farmer's wife wrote to the company in 1932 pointing out the need for a combined work and passenger vehicle - today's utes are intended to be used for work during the week and play on weekends.Most modern utes have the highest towing capacity able to be driven with a regular car licence - 3500kg - which also appeals to grey nomads wanting to make the big trek."You go to campsites and caravan sites across Australia nowadays and they’re full of utes with all the gear in the back, and a trailer, caravan or boat behind it," said Alastair Doak, the marketing manager of Mazda Australia."A lot of buyers are sick and tired of getting the inside of their fancy SUVs dirty. A ute is a great way to separate all the kids bikes and camping and beach gear, and keeping sand and dirt out of the cabin."The HiLux has been Australia's top-selling 4WD ute for more than three decades but its lead has been eroded by revamped rivals such as the new Ford Ranger, which has halved the sales gap to the Toyota in the past two years.While the HiLux will be the first heavy-duty workhorse to have a rear camera as standard on every pick-up model, the Ranger is available with radar cruise control and advance collision warning - a world first for the offroad ute class.Thailand is now the second largest source of vehicles for Australia behind Japan and ahead of South KoreaThe only catch is that Ford charges extra for the optional safety equipment - and a rear camera is standard on only one of its 37 models - even though the Ranger is already the highest priced ute among its peers."Buyers demand car-like features and comfort these days, but they don't want to sacrifice the toughness and functionality that comes with a ute," said Toyota's Tony Cramb.The latest figures show private buyers now account for more than half of all ute sales; historically fleet buyers dominated the market.Sales of heavy-duty utes have soared since 2005, the same year the Free Trade Agreement came into effect with Thailand.Thailand produces most of the utes sold in Australia, including the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50, Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi Triton and Isuzu D-Max.Thailand is now the second largest source of vehicles for Australia behind Japan and ahead of South Korea.Incredibly, the Toyota HiLux has been Australia's top-selling vehicle outright on 14 individual months since 2008 - but it has been the number one vehicle in Queensland, West Australia and the Northern Territory for the past seven years in a row.Tray chic: five new arrivals in five monthsToyota HiLux 2015 Toyota HiLux 2015 Toyota HiLux 2015 Toyota HiLux 2015 Toyota HiLux 2015 Toyota HiLux 2015 Toyota HiLux 2015 Toyota HiLux 2015 Toyota HiLux 2015 Toyota HiLux 2015 Toyota HiLux 2015 Toyota HiLux 2015 Toyota HiLux This is the first all-new HiLux in 10 years and Toyota claims it already has a long waiting list. And that was before the price was announced. The big news is a new, more powerful and more efficient turbo-diesel engine while towing capacity has increased from 2500kg to 3500kg. It is due to arrive in showrooms this week.Ford Ranger 2015 Ford Ranger 2015 Ford Ranger 2015 Ford Ranger 2015 Ford Ranger 2015 Ford Ranger 2015 Ford Ranger 2015 Ford Ranger 2015 Ford Ranger The Ford Ranger might be made in Thailand with the others, but it was designed and engineered right here in Australia. This mid-life update comes four years after this model was released. Aside from the brash truck-like design it gets a more modern cabin, more car-like driving dynamics and one of the toughest turbo-diesels on the market. Unfortunately, Ford knows how to charge for it.Mazda BT-50 2015 Mazda BT-50 XT dual-cab 4x2 2015 Mazda BT-50 XT dual-cab 4x2 2015 Mazda BT-50 XT dual-cab 4x2 2015 Mazda BT-50 XT dual-cab 4x2 With its swoopy design it might look different, but this is a Ford Ranger under the skin. The two vehicles were jointly developed and are made on the same production line. But the Mazda drives a little different. It has stiffer suspension and the steering is heavier since Ford adopted electric power steering. Mazda stayed with the old design. Blink and you'll miss the changes: new headlights, grille and tail-lights.Nissan Navara Ute comparison: 2015 NP300 Nissan Navara Ute comparison: 2015 NP300 Nissan Navara Ute comparison: 2015 NP300 Nissan Navara Ute comparison: 2015 NP300 Nissan Navara Ute comparison: 2015 NP300 Nissan Navara The Nissan Navara looks the business, but it's not selling as well as it should be. Nissan has been a bit greedy with the price and the vehicle hasn't performed as well as its rival in comparison tests. It has more sophisticated rear suspension than the others, but it struggles with a load in the back.Mitsubishi Triton Ute comparison: 2015 Mitsubishi Triton Ute comparison : 2015 Mitsubishi Triton Ute comparison: 2015 Mitsubishi Triton Ute comparison: 2015 Mitsubishi Triton Ute comparison: 2015 Mitsubishi Triton It might look a bit like a preying mantis, but this is one honest truck, packed with more features than other utes for less money. It's a new body on the previous Triton's underpinnings, but there have been big improvements in engine quietness and refinement. It doesn't quite tow as much as the others (3100kg), but it undercuts them on price and is the only ute here with a five-year warranty.What happened to the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon utes?At their peak in the 1980s and 1990s, the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon utes swapped the lead with each other as many times as the sedans did. Yet by the 2000s sales of both models started to slide as buyers embraced four-door four-wheel drive functionality.The Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon utes also can't carry or tow as much as the heavy-duty workhorses.Once the Thailand Free Trade Agreement was signed in 2005 they were hit especially hard, as it brought down the prices of almost every ute on the market - except the ones made locally by Holden and Ford.The Mitsubishi Triton might look a bit like a preying mantis, but this is one honest truckThe one big advantage: they truly drove like a car because they were based on their sedan siblings underneath.When they reach the end of the line (October 2016 for the Falcon ute and late 2017 for the Commodore ute) it truly will be the end of an era.Australia invented the pick-up in 1932 - as was in production by 1934 - and then Ford took the idea to America. It hasn't looked back since.At least there will be one highlight the Aussie ute will be remembered for: Last year Holden Special Vehicles built 250 special editions utes called the GTS Maloo, the fastest and most powerful pick-up in the world. With a 430kW supercharged V8 the GTS Maloo could accelerate as fast as a Porsche, with a 0-100km/h of 4.5 seconds. 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