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Ute showdown looms in Sydney

Sydney splash: Mazda's BT-50 replacement will be one of the headline acts in hot ute action at the Australian International Motor Show.

Big guns roll out beaut utes in battle of the load luggers at Australian motor show

16 Sep 2010

AUSTRALIA’S $500 million-a-year market for utes is set to explode with unprecedented activity at this year’s Australian International Motor Show as it hosts two global light truck launches, the Australian debut of an all-new contender and a raft of model upgrade announcements in Sydney next month.

Almost all major players are allocating space on their stands for new or refreshed entries that range from the all-new Ford Australia-engineered T6 that is set to make its world debut in both Ford and Mazda guises in Sydney, to an upgrade for Toyota’s top-selling HiLux.

Volkswagen is set to put a tremble through the market with its new Argentine-made Amarok – arguably the most important new entrant in the Australian ute market in years.

Mitsubishi will have news on its Triton, while Isuzu has flagged a new 4x4 D-Max variant to be unveiled just ahead of the show – Australia’s only major motor show this year under the new Sydney/Melbourne show sharing arrangement.

Holden will have its upgraded VE II Ute to show off, while Nissan is sweating on the potential arrival of a new Navara variant in time for the show ahead of launch next year.

Show director Russ Tyrie told GoAuto that new commercial vehicle offerings, including global launches from two manufacturers and the Australian launch of the VW Amarok, would make LCVs one of the highlights of the show.

Ford and Mazda are set to roll out their versions of the T6 in the days ahead of the show, with details of the Ford Ranger replacement embargoed until show morning.

Ford Motor Company group vice president and president of Ford Asia Pacific and Africa Joe Hinrichs is flying in for the event, which marks the global debut of the new, larger pick-up to be made in several Ford plants around the world, including Thailand.

22 center imageFrom top: Ford Ranger, VW Amarok, Toyota HiLux and Holden VE Series II Ute.

The Mazda version, sharing the Ford underpinnings but cloaked in a unique Mazda-designed body that was revealed last week in sketches from the Hiroshima-based company, will be built at the same Thai plant as the Ford Ranger and shipped to Australia to replace the current BT-50 from next year.

The Mazda ute, with its new Mazda corporate styling that brings it into line with cars such as the Mazda6 and CX-7, is set to be shown only in dual-cab format. Expect a high-end weekend-warrior spec level.

Ford and Mazda are spending $US350 million ($394m) to prepare the Auto Alliance Thailand factory for the new model which might also be made and sold in the United States, replacing the current, bigger American Ranger that is on death row.

The appearance of VW’s much-hyped Amarok at the show will mark the entrance of Europe’s biggest motor manufacturer into the Aussie ute market, bringing a sharp new competitor that is said to raise the bar for body-on-frame light trucks.

Expected to go on sale late this year or early 2011, the Amarok initially will be available only as a four-door crew-cab powered by a diesel engine, but VW has promised a subsequent model expansion that should include a single-cab and petrol variants.

The Amarok will be instrumental in VW’s plans to overtake Toyota as world number one, and to do so, it will have to take the fight up to Toyota’s supremely successful HiLux.

But the Japanese manufacturer will not allow itself to be a sitting target, and GoAuto expects the HiLux to get a makeover soon, probably in time for the Sydney show that starts on October 15 at the Darling Harbour exhibition centre.

Mitsubishi is set to restore the Club Cab to its Triton range, providing an extended cabin popular with tradesmen and farmers for carrying tools and the like, but with a couple of folding seats for passengers on short trips.

Isuzu Ute’s new D-Max 4x4 variant is set to give the importer another string to its bow in its ageing Thai-built ute line-up that first saw the light of day in Australia as the Holden Rodeo in 2003.

Isuzu is believed to be working on an all-new model for launch in the next couple of years. While the current model is almost identical to the Holden Colorado, expect Isuzu to go its own way in the next generation for the most part.

For GM, a new light pick-up is also under development, with GM chairman Ed Whitacre saying recently that such a vehicle was near the top of the company’s priority list.

For now, Holden will rely on its revised Series II Ute to make waves, with the latest 3.0-litre SIDI V6 and six-speed transmission becoming available on the base Omega.

Nissan, whose Navara 4x4 is second only to Toyota’s HiLux in the all-paw category, only recently upgraded its up-market, European-built STX dual-cab with a new, category leading 140kW/450Nm diesel engine, and hopes to have a new variant on show in Sydney.

However, Nissan Australia is still waiting for confirmation on the appearance of the model, which is not due to go on sale until next year.

So far this year, sales of utilitarian 4x2 ute and cab-chassis light trucks are down 3.8 per cent to 41,032 units, but sales of the more popular 4x4 models are up 20.1 per cent - to 62,850 units.

Overall, ute sales are nine per cent on the first eight months of last year.

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