Australians are becoming increasingly obsessed with massive American-sourced full-sized pickup trucks that make a Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux look… diminutive.
At the midway point of 2023, no corner of the new vehicle market has grown its sales faster than ‘Pickups Over $100,000‘, which is up a whopping 65.4 per cent year-to-date.
Both the Ram 1500 and Chevrolet Silverado use thirsty petrol V8 engines, offer braked-trailer towing capacities of up to 4.5-tonnes, and are about 10 per cent longer than something like a Ranger.
Rounding out this burgeoning segment (for now) are even bigger and burlier heavy duty diesel models designed to tow properly huge loads: the Silverado HD (553 sales YTD), and Ram 2500/3500 (459 sales).
The Ram and Chevy models are sold by different companies but have a key aspect in common – namely they’re re-engineered for right-hand drive by Melbourne company Walkinshaw at its local production lines.
There has been an aftermarket industry for RHD re-engineering for some time (by the likes of Performax), but it’s now happening at a scale that’s scarcely believable, with full factory backing and all that brings to a customer in terms of ease-of-purchase, and reassurance.
The strong results have given Ram Trucks, part of Stellantis, the belief Australia will become an ever-larger source of exports. Ram International boss Bob Graczyk visited Melbourne recently to see the expanded production facility and said demand had “completely exceeded our expectations”.
“10,000 vehicles [per year] is now realistic – who knows, we could go up to 15 or 20,000 units. The acceptance of full-size pick-up trucks by Australians is just phenomenal,” he said.
For its part, General Motors Australia likewise sees no slowing in demand for the Chevy Silverado. In fact it predicts a “significant increase” in throughput going forward, having recently moved to a new brand-specific remanufacturing facility in the industrial suburb of Dandenong.
“… The new dedicated remanufacturing facility will enable improved flexibility and capacity, with a significant increase in the number of Silverados coming off the line,” said GMSV Director Joanne Stogiannis.
The raging success and fat profit margins that come with it, have prompted at least two more big players to enter the fray themselves.
Ford Australia will sell its iconic F-150 here from the third quarter of 2023, re-engineered by global partner firm RMA Automotive at a new facility north of Melbourne, about 70km from the Walkinshaw factory in Clayton. Its six-figure pricing is detailed here.
The company makes no bones about the fact strong Silverado and Ram sales are behind its decision to bring the F-150 back to Australia after a lengthy absence. The car will be backed by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, and will be sold and serviced through the Ford Australia network.
Unlike its American pickup rivals with their V8 engines, the F-150 will be powered by a 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine but offers similar power, torque and towing figures.
The fourth horseman of the regular-size ute apocalypse will be the Toyota Tundra. The company’s local arm also uses Walkinshaw for re-engineering, and plans to put hundreds of converted Tundras into punters’ hands for real-world feedback to iron out any kinks.
The project to locally re-engineer Tundras to right-hand drive (they’re only made at the American factory in left-hand drive) for 2024 sales is a world-first for Toyota, and will give the company’s local division something to sit above the HiLux and LandCruiser 300 Series.
“It’s the first dealer meeting I can recall in many decades where I’ve heard whistling, cheering and 400 and something people in a room really excited, as we are,” Toyota Australia vice president of sales, marketing and franchise operations Sean Hanley told CarExpert.
The RHD Tundras will run a segment-unique hybrid drivetrain that should make them slightly less of a guzzler than competitors. It pairs a twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine (featured in the LandCruiser 300 overseas) and a motor/battery/power control unit.
While critics point out that these beasts are both massive and hardly the last word in eco-friendliness, there’s big potential for them to beat the market’s Thai-made diesel utes in the race to electrification.
For instance after the Ram 1500 REV drove onto the stage of the 2023 New York motor show, the company confirmed the all-electric pickup will be coming to Australia, albeit probably in late 2024. On this theme there’s also a Chevy Silverado EV Stateside, unveiled in January 2022.
Ford Australia boss Andrew Birkic told us the much-hyped F-150 Lightning EV is also on the wish list, although the brand is working to get the petrol F-150 range off the ground first.
Sales of 4×4 utes in Australia January to June 2023:
- Ford Ranger – 23,620
- Toyota Hilux – 21,808
- Isuzu D-Max – 10,787
- Mazda BT-50 – 7866
- Mitsubishi Triton – 7354
- GWM Ute – 5291
- Toyota LandCruiser 70 – 5052
- LDV T60 – 4822
- Ram 1500 – 3697
- Nissan Navara – 3474
- Volkswagen Amarok – 2202
- Ssangyong Musso – 2036
- Chevrolet Silverado – 1015
- Chevrolet Silverado HD – 553
- Jeep Gladiator – 467
- RAM 2500 – 423
- RAM 3500 – 36