It’s clear that Utes rule. Toyota Hilux has been the bestselling vehicle in Australia for 5 years. In the 12 months to February 2021, sales of new Utes overtook sales of passenger cars. Even in the US, a pickup (Ute) is the new family car. So why the fascination with Utes?
The history of Utes
There was a time when the Ute was a fairly humble vehicle. Invented in the 1930s to carry toolboxes and dogs, it morphed in the 1990s to a throaty V8 to be driven fast. Then a decade ago, tax concessions on commercial vehicles encouraged fleet buyers to buy Utes. Thanks to marketing, we were persuaded that Utes are not just for tradies. They are for anyone who wants a versatile vehicle.
The passage of the great Aussie Ute from humble to cool shows up in the last 20 years of bestselling cars.
For the first decade of 20 years, the most popular car was Holden Commodore. Holden Commodore was more than a vehicle – it stood for Australia and Australians. During the next 5 years, Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla took the lead but they were still passenger cars.
In the last 5 years, Toyota HiLux came out on top, with Ford Ranger second for the last 4 years. In fact in 2019, there were 3 Utes in the top 5, including Mitsubishi Triton. Clearly, there’s something going on.
Utes are good for carrying stuff
The Ute has come a long way from carrying toolboxes and dogs. It still does, albeit with the dog tied on rather than wandering around the tray. Now its owner can carry any large, unwieldy items, like surfboards, bikes or beds. Young people borrow a Ute when they move house and they don’t have to worry about leaving a scratch.
Utes are good for towing too. You can add on a trailer full of useful stuff or camping gear, or even a caravan for a trip. Now that people have to have local holidays, they need to be able to carry all their own gear.
Utes are versatile
Utes are hardy and designed to get dirty. Most of their interiors are made using industrial strength rubber, hardy carpeting and easily cleaned plastic. They make a great wheelbarrow on four wheels. They are good for pulling another car out of a bog. As tradies know, they still offer the perfect, mobile toolshed.
But that’s not all. Families use them for dropping off schoolkids, doing the shopping and carting sports gear around for weekend games. There are signs the Ute, for so long the last bastion of macho maleness, is popular with women because it’s versatile and practical. Now Utes have a different image.
Utes are comfortable
Early Utes were spartan. They had vinyl seats, no heating, certainly no air conditioning and not even a radio. Today a Toyota Hilux or Ford Ranger has every feature and creature comfort offered in equivalent sedans. No-one needs to make a compromise in creature comforts when they buy a Ute.
Utes have image
Utes are the new Holden in Australia. They are stylish and practical and domesticated for Australian families. The executive who would normally favour a sleek sedan now feels comfortable commuting in a refined Ute during the week. Then they go camping and four-wheel driving at weekends or on holidays.
Nobody has asked tradies or builders how they feel about everyone driving their favourite vehicle. But it certainly looks as if they have something the rest of us want.
What’s the problem with Utes?
Like any vehicle, Utes have their problems. They tend to be big, heavy, thirsty (usually diesel) and have a higher centre of gravity so they can tip over more easily. You need a lot more fuel to run a Ute. They can be awkward to climb into. They can be difficult to park in crowded urban streets.
Whether or not Utes are as safe as other types of vehicle is another matter. Certainly, they get favourable star ratings from ANCAP:
- Toyota HiLux 5 stars in 2019
- Ford Ranger 5 stars in 2015
- Mitsubishi Triton 5 stars in 2015
Unfortunately, it usually costs more to get a green slip for a Ute.
Green slip for a Ute
Generally, green slip prices are higher for Utes than for passenger cars because insurers perceive them or their drivers as more likely to have accidents and make claims.
If you’re looking for a green slip for your Ute, use the greenslips.com.au calculator to compare prices from all 6 insurers.
Make sure you select Vehicle Type as Light Goods Vehicle/Ute to find your make and model for the year of manufacture.