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Isuzu D-Max, MU-X given Concept X makeover

Concept X could point the way to new Ford Ranger Wildtrak-rivalling Isuzu D-Max

17 Aug 2018

ISUZU Ute Australia (IUA) could deliver a Ford Ranger Wildtrak and Toyota HiLux SR5 competitor with its new-generation D-Max pick-up due to be unveiled in 2020 if customer interest in the just-revealed Concept X version gains enough traction.
Revealed earlier today at the National 4x4 Outdoors Show, Fishing and Boating Expo at the Melbourne Showgrounds, Isuzu’s MU-X SUV was also treated to a Concept X makeover with both built independently of Isuzu Ute Australia (IUA).
EMG Pty Ltd, owners of the Team Isuzu D-Max precision driving team, conceived the idea of the Concept X to draw attention from crowds.
However, IUA senior regional fleet sales manager of the southern region Kevin Griffiths confirmed to journalists that the Concept X pair could morph into a new range-topping production variant if there is sufficient demand.
“Our most expensive ute is around $50,000, we sell a lot of vehicles … but we’re probably not catching many, if any, customers in that market above that, which are people prepared to pay $60,000-plus for a ute,” he said.
“It’s not a market historically we’ve focussed on.
“We’ve already taken the first step with our LS-T model, the next step now is: ‘do we go beyond that and compete with (Toyota HiLux) SR5?’, and this (Concept X) is a great example.
“That’s where it all starts, you put the ideas out in the market and see what the interest is and see if there is a customer base.”
The current Isuzu D-Max line-up tops out at $54,700 before on-roads for the 4x4 automatic LS-T Crew, slightly cheaper than the $56,440 Toyota HiLux SR5 in auto form and self-shifting Ford Ranger Wildtrak that starts at $62,790 for the 147kW/470Nm 3.2-litre turbo-diesel.
However, Mr Griffiths cautioned that IUA would not push upmarket at the cost of its established customer base, who value the rugged and dependable nature of the brand’s vehicles, but recognised the higher end of the ute market as an opportunity to continue sales growth.
“To get there, you’ve got to make sure you don’t forget your (traditional) customer base,” he said. “We will need to be in that market because you want to get some extra sales because we’ve talked about how hard it will be to keep your 10 per cent growth.
“At the moment, we’re not in that ‘premium’ category, if you can sell into that category, you can get some market share – it’s not going to happen overnight – then you help to keep your 10 per cent growth.
“It’s a logical thing we’d look at, the challenge is selling into that category without destroying the success you’ve had elsewhere.”
With just two models in its product portfolio, IUA finished last year 10.4 per cent ahead of 2016 with a sales haul of 25,804 sales – beating out mainstream manufacturers including Audi, BMW, Jeep, Suzuki and Skoda.
IUA has seen year-end double-digit percentage growth since debuting in 2008, with the brand so far this year tracking at 11.2 per cent growth on 15,552 sales to the end of July.
However, Mr Griffiths said a higher-end D-Max would likely not materialise in current second-generation form, and that the mooted variant could arrive after the debut of the new model in Thailand in 2020.
“You’re not going to make that big leap without probably the next model. There are some features … we currently don’t have that you would need to have to move into that premium category,” he said.
“We’re talking about adaptive cruise control, all those sorts of stuff that are features that you would have on those higher brands. If you designed a vehicle to sell into that $60,000 market without those features, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
“Whereas with the new model, it’s obviously for our guys a blank canvas where we can say ‘if we are going to be in that category, well we need to bring (those features) to that car’ because it’s got to be a genuine manufacturer supported product.”
Aside from exterior changes, Mr Griffiths said a higher-performing engine could be on the cards subject to market research, but changes to suspension would likely be kept to a minimum to ensure the D-Max could still be used as a workhorse vehicle.
“Soften up the suspension in the rear or do this to soften it up, then do you lose that ‘fit for use’ capability, and we can’t afford to lose that customer,” he said.
“There’s a great customer base we’ve built and you can’t walk away from them.
“So it’s finding that fine line.”
As for the D-Max and MU-X Concept X vehicles, changes include off-road-ready 38x15.5R20 Toyo Open Country Mud Terrain tyres, as well as a seven-inch suspension lift.
To accommodate the beefier rubber, front and rear guards and bumpers have been widened, while other sheet metal changes include a new bonnet and rear tray (for D-Max).
Standard brakes have been swapped out for six-piston front callipers with 390mm rotors up front and four-piston grabbers with 355mm discs in the rear, however both Concept X vehicles retain the standard 130kW/430Nm 3.0-litre turbo-diesel and six-speed automatic driveline.
Speaking to GoAuto, EMG director and owner of Team D-Max Wayne Boatright said the idea of both vehicles started from the tyres and eventually grew into the fully modified Concept X vehicles.
“We were thinking about building a concept vehicle of some sort without a direction, and then in October last year at the Sydney four-wheel-drive show, I saw a big set of tyres and though they’d look really cool … on the company car,” he said.
“We sat down with our designer and said ‘how are we going to achieve this?’”
Mr Boatright told GoAuto the Concept X models will now go on tour around the country at various events, while further testing and a media drive is also on the cards.
“We’ll probably use them at these four-wheel-drive type shows over the next sort of six months or so,” he said.
“Now that we’re able to have them in public, we’ll do a lot more testing.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see these (upgrades) in an Isuzu Ute, and that wasn’t the purpose, it was just a bit of fun from our point of view, as I said we didn’t set out to build the ultimate four-wheel-drive rock crawler or racer or the ultimate adventure tourer … we just wanted to build something that is cool and stylish.” 

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