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Market Insight: Pick-up trucks big on volume

Aussies can’t get enough of huge, expensive, thirsty North American pick-up trucks

12 Feb 2024

LOVE them or hate them, full-size North American pick-up trucks are gaining popularity in Australia as factory-backed right-hand-drive conversions with local distribution bed in and model choice expands. 


Ram was the first brand to arrive with manufacturer-backed RHD models in 2016, and a total of 292 sales were achieved that year.


Today there are three brands – soon to be four – with combined sales going into five figures, vying for business previously served by a cottage industry of independent importers and conversion shops.


Factory-backed US pick-ups in Australia are not new to those who have watched the industry for a while. As recently as the 1970s to 1980s, it was possible to buy an Australian assembled Chevrolet C20 cab-chassis or Ford F-150 cab-chassis or pick-up. Those who had a ride in an ambulance during the 1980s or 1990s were likely to have travelled in anF-150-based vehicle.


Many will remember the 2001 Ford F-250, a short-lived factory-backed right-hand-drive ute that only stopped selling here in around 2005 because the Mexico plant stopped building right-hand drive.


That was a bonanza for Australian F-250 owners as their vehicles gained value for a while, given it was no longer possible to buy a new one.


Meanwhile, Australia’s longstanding second-tier conversion market has become ever-more sophisticated; the lower cost of computer-aided design and sophisticated 3D manufacturing processes, the crude conversions of years ago have long since morphed into mirror-finish conversions (a seamless left- to right-hand-drive transformation).


Yet it is fair to say these second-tier operators have been well and truly overtaken in volume terms by factory conversion operations, although they continue to fill gaps in the market by selling variants and models overlooked by the OEM-affiliated competition.


Still, the market clearly loves a factory-backed pick-up, and it is possible to only count those as there is no way to accurately measure the sales of second-tier conversions market sales – in part because not all of them are converting exactly the same brand new vehicles, and in some cases they are actually used vehicles.


As it is, VFACTS only counts the factory models, and in fact last year effectively gave these mega-utes their own segment (Pick-Up/Cab-Chassis >$100K).


When Ram arrived under the auspices of American Specialty Vehicles in 2016, VFACTS shows a total of 292 vehicles were sold. These were the heavy duty 2500 and 3500 variants; the following year, the slightly smaller, V8 petrol-powered Ram 1500 arrived and sales soon took off.


In 2018 Ram sold 723 units, and the following year 2868. The majority sold are the Ram 1500, with several hundred being bigger 2500 and 3500 models. By last year, Ram sold a total of 6149 vehicles in Australia.


General Motors wanted a piece of the big ute action, and so when it introduced its locally converted Chevrolet Silverado, it chalked up 2118 sales in its first full year in 2021, climbing to 3365 in 2023. The Silverado, like Ram, offers a V8 petrol 1500 but also a 2500 HD model.


When Ford introduced its big US ute, it stuck with the most likely to sell in volume – that is, the F-150. Only 145 units have sold so far, and while a spree of recalls has not helped, Ford is still looking to a promising sales year for its F-150.


Toyota appeared in the 2023 sales charts with 20 registrations of the Tundra, but these were in effect pre-production models distributed to select customers on a trial basis ahead of an official launch next year.


Many may wonder, as Australia and the world head towards electrification, why such big, heavy and thirsty vehicles are being shipped over, converted here and sold at such a rate.


The answer is almost too simple; the tax advantages for businesses means that those in this position can buy these $100,000-plus utes and pay less to the ATO. There is also the Australian obsession with towing ever-heavier recreational trailers, such as caravans and boats.


With their 4500kg towing capacity – where the majority of the mainstream vehicle market is capped at 3500kg – these pick-up trucks have a strong selling point.


Add to this the fact that these vehicles offer all the same luxury trimmings as go-to large SUV 4x4s such as a Toyota LandCruiser 300, with fuel use (when laden at least) not too dissimilar to the big diesel ’Cruiser, it becomes clear to see why some buyers see big American dual-cabs as practical and good value.


Where the US pick-up truck market goes from here though, is the question...


Those big, bluff grilles might face headwinds with incoming fuel efficiency standards – especially if applied on a brand-by-brand basis where Ram and Chevrolet have no fuel-sipping models to offset the average thirst of their fleet – not to mention any future fuel price shocks due to international conflicts and a growing community sense that these large vehicles' sheer weight and bulk do not make it any safer for other road users.

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