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As Sean mentioned last week, with the coming demise of the Ranger, we’re about to be screwed in terms of small trucks in the U.S. He suggested the Mexican-distributed Chevy Tornado as a possible niche-filler, but readers offered an even better idea: Tap the Australian market and give us a “ute.”

About a month ago a friend visited me in Texas from her home in Australia, and about halfway back from the airport her first comment was “Wow, I don’t recognize almost any of these cars.” Throughout the week we discovered that Australian and American culture are pretty close cousins — but the vehicle market is another story altogether. Though Ford and others manufacture vehicles for both countries, their offerings differ dramatically.

Take, for example, the ute. Common in AU, the ute fills much the same role as the Ranger does — did — here in the U.S. Utes are essentially small cars with a truck bed. Think Subaru Brat and you’re in the general vicinity. Toolmonger reader Mark points out one in particular (pictured above), the Falcon Ute Styleside Box.

As you can see in the inset, it’s also available with a rear tray, so it’s clearly a work vehicle, but with a sport compact twist: Under the hood you’ll find a 4.0l six-cylinder with a six-speed manual transmission. Hotchkiss rear suspension keeps it driveable, and those are 16″ steel wheels with 215/60 R16 tyres (gotta stay Aussie with the spelling, right?). Inside you’ll find a whole digital suite of infotainment gear, including an iPod interface and an MP3-capable disc player.

The bad news: While this thing would make a kick-ass tow vehicle for, say, a weekend Formula Ford racer — you’d be king racer geek showing up in this at the crap diner at your fave out-of-the-way SCCA tack — it’s not really what Sean and I are looking for to replace the Ranger. We’d rather leave the six-speeds and high-output sixes to the kids. Why? They’re expensive. The “base model” Falcon Ute checks in at a whopping $30k US (about $28k AUD). Its simple little large-displacement four-banger and decades-old suspension will run you less than half that.

Then again, if sporty is your thing, you could just give in and grab the XR6 Turbo, which adds sweet aluminum wheels, forced induction, leather, and a ZF 6-speed automatic tranny with sequential shift. Boo frakkin’ yah.

Anyway, as cool as this sucker is, we’re still looking. Hopefully you’ll keep sending in the recommendations. Maybe if we hammer away hard enough on this, Detroit will get the idea and offer something going forward that’ll let us get the job done on the cheap.

Falcon Ute [Ford Australia]


25 Responses to WTF Can’t We Have Utes In The U.S.?

  1. I picked up an ’82 VW Rabbit Pickup a few years ago. Great. Made in USA, runs biodiesel, ~40mpg. 29 years old, but there’s not much to break.

  2. TL says:

    One of the reasons we never see the foreign market mini-trucks in the US is the Chicken Tax (google it). Since 1964 the US has had a 25% tariff on imported light trucks. In the 1970’s and 80’s the Japanese builders either paid up or worked around the tax in various ways. Shipping the chassis and bed separately (and bolting them together in the US) was only a 4% tariff. The Subaru Brat had two seats in the bed, not because it was a good idea to sit there, but because that way it was a “car” and exempt from the tax. Eventually Nissan, Toyota, and even Honda build their US market trucks in the US to get out of the tax.

    Since almost no vehicle has a 25% profit, you’re not going to see any foreign market trucks in the US unless they are built here.

  3. Sebastian Brooks says:

    I’ve been reading toolmonger for years now, but up until now didn’t have anything to say. But, as a transplanted Australian, I’ve been wondering the same thing since I moved to the US in 97. For most people, it’s all they need. What I think the issue is that the US truck culture has caused people to believe that small trucks are weak and useless, but that’s not the case.

  4. zdiggler says:

    I’m ready for one. I’m sick of trucks, I live in North East and way too many trucks I’m sick of them.

    Want something with bigger bed then Baja.

  5. ambush says:

    Ford will probably replace the ranger with something sooner or later. Its hard to believe they would get rid of both the ranger and the explorer sport-trac.
    Time for the much rumored reintroduction of the F-100.

  6. Rick says:

    TL is correct about the Chicken tax. In fact, Ford’s TransConnect van would get the chicken tax except that they ship if from Turkey as a passenger van to a factory in Georgia. At that factory, they take out the seats, windows, and other “passenger” stuff to make them into cargo vans.

    Another reason they we don’t get small trucks in the US is because full sized trucks have HUGE profit margins. I mean they are stupidly huge. So they can discount them a lot and still make a profit. By comparison, small trucks have never gotten those kinds of profit margins. They can’t be heavily discounted at all and they just don’t sell as well.

    Throw in the fact that all small truck manufacturers have neglected the market and you get nothing but pathetic sales..

    But there is hope. The new CAFE regs are probably going to force manufacturers to bring small trucks back to the US market. Chevy hasn’t confirmed the new Colorado for the US market but it seems that they are going to do it. Nissan is also going to bring a redesigned Frontier to market soon. Nissan is more motivated since their Titan has never caught on.

  7. Toolfreak says:

    For the longest time, the poor, poor sales of vehicles like the El Camino, Brat, and the like were the reason they were never marketed again. But now that the SUV market is going to unibody car-like “crossover” vehicles, it sure would make sense for other utility-type vehicles to follow suit if it means keeping the utility but increasing the gas mileage and making them more modern.

    As for the Ranger, discontinuing it is dumb, dumb, dumb. It seems that having the best-selling compact pickup is cutting into Ford’s plans to sell things that aren’t compact pickups or something.

    It’s taken decades of begging and pleading for the US market to get four-door pickups. I doubt we’ll be getting awesome stuff like the Falcon anytime soon, if ever. 4 point oh and a six speed would be GREAT. Even better in an Explorer where it belongs.

    Detroit is still NOT getting it though, and is just doing it’s same old tactic of building what they want us to buy, rather than building what we want to buy. Maybe they’ll get it when the next bankruptcy leaves them where the last one should have – gone. If Ford survives that one, maybe they’ll start bringing over the cool stuff and stop insulting their home market.

  8. rg says:

    I couldn’t agree more, but we’ll never see it in North America. Why would manufacturers cut into their comfortable and safe full-size truck sales?

    Also, don’t be fooled by the price of the vehicle in Australia — they’re expensive there!

    Here’s a Ford Focus Titanium model, just to compare apples to apples. The prices have been converted to US dollars.

    Canada: USD $24,269

    United States: USD $22,700

    Australia: USD $35,846

    Wow, and I thought manufacturers were ripping us off here in Canada!

  9. an aussie says:

    As an Australian I’m more than happy to swap Utes, I can recommend a Ford FPV GS or F6.

    If I lived in the states I would not be to upset, I would love to get my hands on a Ford Raptor, any of the F series. The grass is always greener.

    To put a bit more prospective on it a 2011 F250 Crew cab Run for $140,000.00 or a 4×4 Nissan Navara (frontier) is about $65,000.00 cars are Expensive.

  10. mikedt says:

    I’m guessing the real reason is the companies see no need to make a 15k mini truck when they can easily talk you into a 30k full size truck. Why leave the extra 10+ grand of profit sitting on the table. Up until $4 gas it was a sound motive. But maybe, just maybe, if high gas prices force full size truck purchases to be relegated to simply people who use them in business the full size market might shrink enough to force the companies to release new mini-utes. Until then don’t hold your breath.

    • Toolfreak says:

      If you check out the pattern of gas prices, gas will stay below $4 and then drop sharply near the end of 2012…during the summer and especially right before November.

      Immediately afterwards, prepare for $4 and up.

  11. ThatOneGuy says:

    We’ll never get vehicles like that. They don’t consume enough fuel and therefore won’t enslave you enough to the oil cartel/government.

  12. craig says:

    the real problem is that thousands say they want it, hundreds buy it. it goes away.

  13. Coach James says:

    I agree with Craig. If the small trucks sold in enough numbers, they would be built. Full size trucks are what more people want, even though many do not need them.

    Just as I see many Escalades with a single occupant, I see full size trucks that never carry more than an occassional bag or two of mulch. Several of my friends bought full size trucks because they wanted to show off to the guys at work and they buy into the macho BS on the truck commercials.

  14. Jesse T says:

    I have a chevy 1/2 ton that I bought from my father-in-law for a little under 2k. I have used it to move, pickup lumber and sheet goods, and fill it with free mulch from the utility district. While it is very nice to have when I need the full bed, most of the time it just carries my lazy butt to work and back. Also, can’t put car seats in it. What I realy want is something like the Subaru Baja, backseats for the kids, a small bed for carrying stuff in general, and a hitch for a trailer when I need to carry more than will fit in the bed. Should also have an optional rack to make it easy to carry 8′ lumber.

  15. Kurt Perth WA says:

    In Aus the traybacks and base units do the work along with the Asian imports. The higher level of goodies on the Falcons and Commadores (GM) are used as status symbols especially for the younger members of the population especially in the cockies families. The top of the range utes are the ” sports cars, muscle car and showponies” which at most may carry a surfboard or two.
    We even race our utes at the racetracks, and god help anyone who scratches one.

    See you at the next ute’n’dog muster!

  16. Shannon Love says:

    The CAFE fuel efficiency standards make small trucks built on car bodies impossible to sell at a profit. These were very common in the 70s but the CAFE standards require such small trucks be as fuel efficient as cars with the same frame. That ain’t gonna happen because trucks have so much air drag.

    This is another example of how poorly thought out regulation defeats its own purpose. Instead of letting people make do with a smaller truck and using less gas, the regulations make it necessary and often cheaper to buy a big gas hog whether you need the size and power or not.


  17. DrLou says:

    I would love a Ford Falcon Ute with a 2.0 – 2.5 liter diesel as long as it could haul 4 x 8 sheets. The Falcon Ute has RWD (great for hauling) and performs well in crash tests. With a small diesel you would gain good mpg and low-end torque.

  18. mark brown says:

    I enjoyed reading the above article and comments. I am australian, just came back from USA and have driven utes all my life.
    The first thing I fell in love with are those big pick ups in America, classic.
    BUT then I realised that anybody that does any work tows a trailer behind them. Why I guess two reason the trays are pretty small and too high to lift gear in and out of them. In truth I think they are status symbols not everyday work vechiles as they are here in Australia. Nothing beats the old tray backs for putting a pallet of whatever on or even a couple of big bales of hay. With the pickups although they can easily handle the weight they are simply impratical.

  19. stash says:

    No mention of an xr8?

  20. Mark says:

    I lived in Australia for 25 years and one of the things that I really disliked was the large number of ugly, cheap, Utes EVERYWHERE. They make their surroundings ugly and unsophisticated. As an example, you would expect to find a ute in the outback, or farms, or in the countryside, but in Australia, due to the very high number of construction workers/blue collar/working class population, these Utes are EVERYWHERE, even in the cities. The problem? The Utes have a “redneck” connotation, so they drag the sophistication level down of their surroundings. you could be checking in to the most expensive luxurious inner city hotel in Sydney, but I can guarantee that you will see at least one ugly ute either be parked nearby or be driven past within the first few seconds. Utes seem to make up approx 50% of cars on the road in Aus, so it’s a constant case of being surrounded by rednecks. I hate Utes. American pickups look big and cool and remind me of the matchbox toy cars I had as a kid. I would happily own and drive one. Utes are small thin and look dorky, it’s an embarrassment. In the same way if you compare Australian ALF uniforms to the American gridiron uniform. American uniform looks cool Australian looks super dorky and embarrassing.

  21. Sally Wilson says:

    Crikey mate. Fair go.

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