Australia doesn’t love utes – it loves pick-up trucks

I call a ute a ute. I don’t call it a pick-up. I don’t call it a truck (although I like the macho nature of the word truck).

It’s clear, however, that the word ‘ute’ is being phased out of car company marketing chit-chat, and it could well be that buyers are following the same path.

On its website, Ford bundles the Ranger in with its commercial vehicles, but the company’s ad campaign for the series one model – where the lady in the blue dress talks smack about the HiLux, claiming Ford’s ‘truck’ looks like a real truck (watch the video above) – is what got me thinking about the death of the word ‘ute’.

Ford isn’t alone in that regard, but let me first explain why the ute is important to the Australian automotive world.

It all harks back to that common story about the Victorian farmer whose wife wrote a letter to Ford asking for a vehicle that was respectable enough to take to church on Sunday and the market on Monday. A vehicle that was both a car – with a comfortable, closed cabin – and offered the practicality of a tray back for hauling goods.

That lead to Ford designer Lew Bandt coming up with the “coupe utility” in 1934, which Henry Ford was said to have nicknamed the “kangaroo chaser”.

Since then there have been hundreds of different iterations of the Aussie ute, but with the demise of locally-produced models from Holden and Ford – in the shape of the respective Falcon and Commodore ute models – imminent, the word ‘ute’ could fall out of the vernacular in favour of the Americanised terminology, or something completely different.

2016 Ford Ranger Wildtrak_06

Ford’s Australian CEO and president, Graeme Whickman, told CarAdvice at the launch of the new Ranger model that a ute and pick-up need to be thought of in different ways.

“It wouldn’t be, in my opinion, the right thing to do to start calling it a ute. It’s a pick-up, we’ve seen that people like the utility of the pick-up,” he said.

“We wouldn’t go out and market it as a ute – we’d go out and market it as a Ranger. To me, ute is a generic term for a mash of derivatives: some are these [pick-ups], some are car designs.”

Forget definitions. It’s idioms I’m talking about.

Look at Mitsubishi Motors Australia’s website: they have a drop-down category for SUV and 4×4 models. What about the humble Triton 4×2? It doesn’t’ get a guernsey?

 

Mitsubishi utes

Volkswagen has a bet both ways: it lists the Amarok as a ute on the click-through button on its website that takes you to its commercial vehicles section, while the company also slots the Amarok into its “SUV family”.

Volkswagen SUV family

Nissan does the same thing with its new Navara NP300. In the blurbs about the vehicle it’s referred to as a pick-up, while the website search tool has a specific category for utes. So it’s not a complete loss.

Isuzu Ute Australia – good on you. Strong! (Even though we all know you also sell an SUV that doesn’t have the word ute on it, nor does your ute model, and you only called your brand Isuzu Ute Australia to stop people accidentally finding your trucks instead…)

Toyota is on the right wavelength. The HiLux ute is the country’s most popular – it even says so on the company’s Aussie site!:

Toyota HiLux ute

Mazda says its competitor, the BT-50, is the only ute you need. Pretty big claim.

Ford’s chief rival, Holden, pitches its Ranger rival, the Colorado, in its Utility Vehicles branch, which also contains the Commodore Ute, which the brand actually calls the Holden Ute. Bold, and also kind of sad at the same time.

What do you think? Are you happy to call a ute a ute? Or is the word pick-up a better descriptor of these big, er, trucks…?

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