You beaut! Australia’s love affair with the ute

By AG Staff Writer February 5, 2016
Reading Time: 3 Minutes Print this page
An iconic vehicle of the Aussie outback, the utility vehicle – or ‘ute’ – represents one of the most popular vehicle choices in Australia, and today is as likely to be spotted in the ‘burbs as the bush.

This article was sponsored by Toyota

EVERY SPRING ON the sun-drenched plains of Deniliquin, NSW, near the Victoria border, Australians gather from all over the country to celebrate one thing – their love of utes. Although it’s just one of the many ute musters held around the country, the Deni Ute Muster is the largest event of its kind and embodies Australia’s love for this iconic truck design, also called a pick-up truck if you hail from the USA, or a bakkie for our South African cousins.

Every type of ute fathomable is on display in Deni, where the only thing more evident than the dust is the pride owners have in their beloved utes, with vehicles personalised with everything from bumper stickers to after-market lights, bull bars and surround-sound stereo systems.

The idea for the ute stems from one of practicality. The concept is alleged to have been sparked from a letter written by the wife of a farmer from Gippsland, Victoria, in 1932 to Ford Motors in Geelong.

“Why don’t you build people like us a vehicle to go to church in on Sunday, and which can carry our pigs to market on Monday?” she asked.

Lew Bandt, a 22-year-old South Australian engineer working for Ford, responded by drawing up a ‘coupe utility’ model. By modifying a Model T, Bandt’s innovation provided for an enclosed comfortable cabin at the front and a wooden tray on the back.

Toyota HiLux SR5

Testament to the enduring popularity of the ute, Toyota’s HiLux is the best-selling car in Australia. (Image courtesy Toyota)

Two years later in 1934, the first Australian ute rolled off the factory floor. Dubbed ‘the Kangaroo chaser’ when presented abroad, it was an instant success among farmers and quickly became an Australian classic and a staple of automakers’ factory floors. Although Australia can’t claim to have invented the first ute, it did combine a more stylish, comfortable and roomier cabin with a light truck body. Even foreign cars that weren’t initially designed as such were reconstructed into utes for the Australian market.

Today, almost a century later, and the ute is as ingrained in Australian culture as ever. Although originating as a cargo carrier for tradesmen and farmers, the modern ute is just as likely to be seen in the suburbs as the bush. In 2015, of the top 10 cars sold in Australia, three were utes, and Toyota’s HiLux took out the top spot as the best-selling car – of any kind – in the country.

“The versatility of the dual-cab [a ute with rear doors and rear passenger seats] is, in my opinion, the main driver behind the incredible sales figures,” says Justin Walker, editor of Australian Geographic Adventure and former editor of 4X4 Australia magazine. “Being able to lug your work gear around during the week and then load up the ute tray with camping gear, bikes, kayaks, etc., for a family adventure on the weekend, is key to their success.”

With large swatches of outback Australia requiring four-wheel drive to access, 4WD utes are a popular choice. Toyota’s newest HiLux model, the SR5, underwent intensive testing and development including 650,000km in real-world Australian conditions – some of the harshest in the world. Representing a significant evolution from those early wooden traybacks, the SR5 with its new 2.8L diesel engine is the most powerful HiLux ever built.

True to the concept of the original utes, the cabin of the new Hilux is also more comfortable than ever. Offering new electronic driving aids and improved suspension, “these improvements have resulted in significant improvement in regards to ride comfort and overall handling, without compromising the load-carrying capability,” says Justin.

Australians may no longer require a vehicle to take to church on Sunday and the pigs to market on a Monday – but the original principle of versatility and comfort remains as relevant as ever.


Brought to you by Toyota