Australia’s Workhorse Utes

Australia’s Workhorse: Utes

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You don’t have to be on the road for long in Australia to realise that us Aussies love utes. The Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger were the top two best sellers in 2020 respectively.

2019 wasn’t much different, the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger, again the best sellers.

2018 Best Sellers: Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger.
2017 Best Sellers: Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger.

In this article, we take a look at the history of the ute and find out how utes came to dominate vehicle sales in Australia.

Firstly, what’s with the name?

Australia and New Zealand are the only English-speaking countries not to use “pick-up truck”. The word ‘ute’ is an abbreviation for “utility” or “coupé utility” - makes sense as many people ‘utilise’ the rear trays.

Originally, the term referred only to sedans with cargo trays like the quintessential Holden utes. In other words, a light truck with unbroken bodywork along the side. If the passenger cab and tray were separate, it was a ‘light truck’, not a ‘ute’.

Eventually, a ‘ute’ came to mean pretty much any vehicle with a rear tray area as we know them today.

A traditional ute with its unbroken bodywork. The passenger cabin and rear cargo tray appear as one piece.

Holden Ute(A Holden ute with its unbroken bodywork)

A light truck or pickup truck with its passenger cabin and rear cargo tray as separate pieces.

pick-up trucks

(A pick-up truck with a separate cabin and cargo tray)

The first utes in Australia

It’s widely accepted that the first ute in Australia rolled off Ford’s Geelong plant in 1934 after the company received a letter the previous year. The story goes that in 1933, a farmer’s wife from Gippsland, Victoria wrote to Ford asking for a car design that could take them ‘to church on Sundays and the pigs to market on Mondays’.

Despite the story, there were ‘utes’ prior to the 1930s. For example, a Dodge soft-top pickup in 1924 looked extremely ‘uteish’. Furthermore, variations of the mid-1920’s Ford Model T feature a rear cargo tray.

Wherever and whenever the first ute appeared, its success isn’t fading.

Thailand
Panama
Botswana
Argentina
Peru
Ivory Coast
Kenya
Fiji
South Africa
Namibia

And Australia, all share something in common - the Toyota HiLux is the best-selling car in all of them.

Utes become mainstream

In the early 1950s, Holden joined the ute party. The Holden “FX” Coupe Utility was released in January 1951. Observing other brands’ utes and their popularity, the vehicle wasn’t much of a high-risk gamble for Holden.

The 50-2106 Coupe Utility proved durable and ‘farm-ready’ and got a reported 9.4L/100km.

Holden FX Coupe Utility

(The Holden FX Coupe Utility. Source: richardlewis.org)

Utes continued to prove an increasingly common sight on rural Australian roads in the 1950s.

As their popularity increased, along with sales numbers, other manufacturers got in on the action, releasing utes in Australia. Ford and Holden had stiff competition. For example;

  • Toyota sold its Crown utility from 1962-1967 before the HiLux which was launched in 1968.
  • The Subaru Brumby was a light 4WD ute produced from 1978 to 1994. The Brumby had a strange name, the BRAT in some other markets.
  • Mitsubishi released its Triton ute in 1978.

But they weren’t big sellers. Sedans and hatchbacks dominated the Australian market for decades with the typical Aussie family having a Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon as the prime mover alongside a backup hatchback.

Today, Australians have a huge array of ute choices, to name a few in addition to those above;

  • Volkswagen Amarok
  • Mercedes-Benz X-Class
  • Nissan Navara
  • Mazda BT-50
  • Isuzu D-Max

Ute popularity (unsurprisingly) overtakes sedans

Looking back over the last 20 years in Australia, the rise of utes is evident.

In 2001, these vehicles were our top sellers:

1: Holden Commodore
2: Ford Falcon
3: Toyota Corolla
4: Holden Astra
5: Toyota Camry

(Very) unlike today, no utes or SUVs in the top 5.

In 2006, utes finally started getting noticed:

1: Holden Commodore
2: Toyota Corolla
3: Ford Falcon
4: Toyota Hi-Lux
5: Mazda3

2011:

1: Mazda3
2: Holden Commodore
3: Toyota HiLux
4: Toyota Corolla
5: Holden Cruze

Top Selling Cars in Australia 2012 - 2021

Year

Best Seller

Second Best Seller

2012

Mazda3

Toyota HiLux (ute)

2013

Toyota Corolla

Mazda3

2014

Toyota Corolla

Mazda3

2015

Toyota Corolla

Mazda3

2016

Toyota Hilux (ute)

Toyota Corolla

2017

Toyota Hilux (ute)

Ford Ranger (ute)

2018

Toyota Hilux (ute)

Ford Ranger (ute)

2019

Toyota Hilux (ute)

Ford Ranger (ute)

2020

Toyota Hilux (ute)

Ford Ranger (ute)

March, 2021

Toyota Hilux (ute)

Ford Ranger (ute)

The numbers don’t lie, we Aussies love utes.

Get your next ute

Utes are versatile vehicles. The improved off-road ability with driver assist technology, dual cab chassis and large rear tray explain their popularity in Australia.

Positive helps countless drivers get behind the wheel (and in front of the tray) of their next ute.

With a quick quote and a simple process backed by our friendly and professional team, there’s no need to hesitate to find out your options.

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