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Ute sales boom
Utes no longer just do the work during the week, getting down and dirty on the weekend for everything from kids’ sport to a family adventure.
It wasn’t long ago when utes were just that: utility vehicles used to carry tools and timber.
Fast forward to 2021, and utes have morphed into adventure machines, family cars and the favoured ride for young blokes who once may have aspired to a Commodore or Falcon.
Ute sales are booming. In the first half of 2021r, a record 116,860 utes were sold. More than one in five new vehicles is now a ute.
Blame it on flexibility.
Utes can carry about a tonne, follow a LandCruiser into the bush, tow 3.5 tonnes and pack the family in as a bonus. It doesn’t hurt that they look tough and macho, the sort of cars someone from Brighton or Ballarat would be happy to step out of.
The Ford Ranger.
"Over the past decade, there's been a tangible step-change in the perception of the ute," says Ford Australia Customer Pathfinder William Brook.
"Traditionally, it tended to be solely considered as the domain of the tradie - a reliable workhorse intended to get the job done. Now that’s no longer the case, and the ute is universally renowned as a complete companion for a multitude of active lifestyles, catering to families, thrill-seekers, touring empty-nesters and adventurers."
Little wonder we’re on track to buy around 230,000 utes this year, comfortably eclipsing the record 211,285 sales set in 2019.
The RAM 1500.
Stepping up and kitting out
Many new utes are anything but cheap transport. The growth in the ute segment has come predominantly from five-seat dual-cab versions with diesel engines. Whereas Aussie utes were once based on passenger cars, modern utes use a truck-like construction, albeit with passenger safety features and technology. More than half of utes sold last year cost more than $50,000, many of those exceeding $60,000. Get serious, and it's easy to splash out six figures on a ute, especially with the growth in full-sized American pickup trucks such as the Ram 1500 and Chevrolet Silverado.
“The ute market has been growing like mad, and in our opinion, it will keep growing," says Ryan Walkinshaw, director of Walkinshaw Automotive that converts Chevrolets and Rams from left to right-hand drive in Melbourne. He says the lack of luxury car tax on utes and the government’s instant asset tax write-off has helped ute sales.
“It has been developing from nothing, the bigger segment of the market, with the US trucks; we are seeing a lot of old HSV customers going into Rams and Silverados.”
4WD utes now dominant
That’s a marked difference from the early 2000s, when utes made up about one in 10 sales and Ford and Holden utes ruled the roads, most of them driving only two wheels. In 2007, 4x4 utes overtook two-wheel-drive models and have surged to be the chosen ride. These days, 87 per cent of utes sold are 4x4s.
It helps that the Australian Tax Office provides Fringe Benefit Tax exemption for utes, albeit with a rider, stating that non-work-related use is “minor, infrequent or irregular”. You don’t have to venture far to realise some have stretched those definitions. After all, you hardly need chunky tyres, a snorkel and a blaring light bar to carry plumbing or electrical gear. Utes no longer just do the work during the week, getting down and dirty on the weekend for everything from kids’ sport to a family adventure.
"Utes are even serving the role that has in recent years has been reserved for SUVs," says Brook. "Our data also confirms that women are increasingly active in ute purchasing decisions.”