The new normal: The rise of utes
with Stuart Macadam
My dad always gets excited when he talks about his first car. It was one of those yellow 1970's Volkswagen Beetles. Although it had its fair share of problems, he'd have you believe it was the greatest vehicle ever. Thankfully he's driving something a bit more modern these days.
I can't believe how blocky and unpractical a lot of the cars from that time look. Yet back then, that was normal. You bought what was made by the manufacturer and that was that.
The cars which used to be popular 20 or 30 years ago wouldn't cut it in today's highly competitive car market. The industry has changed so much.
The Motor Transport Association's Car Show of the Century in April gave a visual showcase on just how big these changes have been. In one expose, they lined up over 100 classic cars, supercars and muscle cars. Those in attendance could see for themselves how everything, from the cabin to the body has changed.
New Zealand's best selling cars list is remarkably different as well. The demand for medium cars like Honda Civics or large cars like Holden Commodores is dwindling. Today, it's all about the Ute show. People want to know about the latest Ford Ranger or Toyota Hilux.
In many ways, the rising popularity of Utes is like that catchphrase “Big is good” from the old Mitre 10 Mega ads.
But what has led to the sudden change of tastes? Do we live different lifestyles now compared to 10, 15, 20 years ago? Is the marketing better? Were we just looking for something different?
The answer is that it's a range of things.
Kiwis are well known for embracing an outdoor lifestyle. What could be more kiwi than farming, camping, barbecues on the patio, going to the beach, fishing or watching the kids play sport.
Rather than trying to persuade the market they need a Ute for reasons x, y and z, automotive companies have been clever. They've looked at the market and tailored their vehicles to meet the lifestyle needs of people.
Utes provide plenty of space for storing gear and equipment. They are no longer just workhorse vehicles for tradespeople. The double cab models have spacious and comfortable cabins and are great family vehicles.
The technological advances and high demand for Utes has seen a complete evolution in the innovation. Fuel efficiency is excellent. Most models come in under 10L/100km, making them a more cost effective option than the gas guzzling large cars. The integrated technology and Bluetooth features also make them effective mobile offices for business folks who are on the road a lot. You're also higher off the ground and can get a better view of what's happening around you.
We know Utes are the new normal because of who's ringing us up and enquiring about them. It's not just tradespeople anymore. It's brokers, doctors and lawyers who want them as well.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that when you look at the Top 10 Best-Selling Vehicles List in New Zealand, five of those vehicles are Utes.