You could call it ‘The Year of The Ute,’ the year – 2014 – when the battle for the hearts and minds of the country’s cockies and tradies went mainstream.
Sure, Toyota’s Corolla remained the biggest selling ‘car’ but even in the country’s main centres it was obvious that the sale of utility vehicles was booming.
It wasn’t always like this of course.
When the late, great Barry ‘Crumpy’ Crump first offered Lloyd ‘Scottie’ Scott a lift up his ‘driveway’ (really a rough, tough stretch of forestry track deep in the Akatarawas north-east of Wellington) a ‘ute’ was just that, a ‘utility’ vehicle built tough for the farm or forestry block.
Now, through a process of metamorphosis that would do a caterpillar proud, a ‘ute’ has blossomed into a true five-star Ancap-rated multipurpose miracle of compromise, as comfortable and capable in the city CBD as it is at a country stock sale.
What Crumpy or Scottie – and the two user-groups they so accurately and humorously represented – would think of all this is, of course, a moot point.
There is no doubting the sea change ute sales are part of though. 2014 has truly been a watershed year for the motor vehicle industry in this country, no more so than in the commercial sector, which as this was being written was set to be the best ever... that’s right, ever!
In the latest figures published before the 2015 Annual went to press (October) sales in the commercial sector (of which utes play a key part) were up 14 percent on October 2013 and 21 percent year to date.
The ascendance of the humble ute – helped in no small part by the proliferation of double cab models – is not the only trend changing the face of the ‘new car’ sales scene either.
Also impossible to ignore is what you could call the ‘second coming’ of the SUV (variously defined as ‘sport’ or ‘suburban’ utility vehicle).
First time round these were mostly ute-based, with a ladder chassis and dual-range 4WD system. Here, imported second-hand models from Japan (think Toyota Surf, and Nissan Terrano) helped seed interest in the sector. Then evolution took its course.
Initially, interest in new models came in what we class as the 4WD Wagon sector, with models like Toyota’s Prado and Mitsubishi’s Pajero proving viable ‘Jack-of-all-trades’ alternatives to conventional ‘car’ models like Ford’s Falcon and Holden’s Commodore.
Today, however, the real action is in the Medium Recreational and Compact Recreational 4WD sectors.
Our seven-vehicle SUV Shootout took a six-of-one/half-a-dozen-of-the-other approach, as the differences between the two categories continue to blur.
Clever design tends to disguise the real-world size and practicality of – say – a Hyundai Sante Fe, a vehicle which can transport four adults in comfort on tarmac and gravel AND tow a decent-sized boat or caravan weighing up to 2,000kgs.
It’s that sort of broad capability which is drawing more and more Kiwis to these new generation utes and SUVs.