The ongoing love affair between Kiwis and our utes

SUVs may have been the commercial success of the past five years, but they haven’t replaced utes in the motoring culture of New Zealand.

Originally preferred in rural environments, utes are now becoming increasingly popular in urban settings. They’re also a firm favourite of tradespeople, who use them for work as well as leisure.

Ute sales in New Zealand have been strong over the past two years and, while you don’t see as many on the roads as you do SUVs, they are still growing in popularity. It’s a rise fuelled as much by the fact that newer double-cab models are more suited to being used as family cars, as it is by Kiwis’ passion for the great outdoors.

Sales success

2015 is shaping up to be a strong year for car sales in New Zealand, and utes have been part of the driving force behind that, with sports utilities sales dominating the segment with 33% market share.

According to Motor Trade Association, three utes were among the most popular models sold of all cars:

  • Ford Ranger
  • Toyota Hilux
  • Nissan Navara.

This year, sales are holding up well with the Ranger and the Hilux still battling it out for the title of New Zealand’s most popular ute – the former just ahead, with 5061 units sold this year, versus 4778 Hilux sales. On top of that, the Motor Industry Association reports that new commercial vehicle growth so far this year is up 5.2% against the same time last year, and up 6.3% for the year to date.

"Safer than ever"

AA Motoring Adviser Cade Wilson says the ute also often rivals other vehicles on the road when it comes to safety, adding to its increasing popularity.

“Utes are now safer than ever,” Cade says. “Ford’s New Ranger (pictured) recently received an ANCAP 5 star safety rating, across both its 2 and 4 wheel drive variants. This is one of the highest ANCAP safety scores ever received by a ute.”

The history

While pick up trucks - an early version of the ute – were already available, it took a letter from an Australian famer’s wife in 1933 to spark the invention of the first official coupe utility vehicle.

In need of a vehicle that could both transport the pigs to market and the family to church, she wrote to Ford asking if they could develop such a car. The family, she said, couldn’t afford two vehicles.

The story goes that the letter ended up on the desk of Hubert French, Ford Australia’s managing director. And it got him thinking.

French passed the query on to a young designer called Lewis Brandt, who combined the features of a car and a truck to create the world’s first ute. The first model rolled off the production line in 1934 and the Australasian love affair with this new type of multi-purpose vehicle was born.

Why are utes so popular today?

No other vehicle represents the rugged outdoor lifestyle that so many Kiwis love, more than the ute.

Like the original concept, the car can transport the family but it can also do a whole lot more. Whether being taken on hunting trips to working on the farm, the ute and the great outdoors go hand in hand. Tough, reliable and able to tow big loads, they are the motoring equivalent of Ritchie McCaw.

Finally, would any piece about utes and New Zealand be complete without a mention of Barry Crump and Scotty? We don't think so either...

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