Dreaming Down Under: What if more automakers produced ‘utes’?

Insurance company offers wild ideas for car-based pickup trucks for Australians

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The Sydney Opera House provides a backdrop for this image of a car-based pickup truck, or "ute" as they're known Down Under. An Australian insurance company commissioned 8 drawings to show what various automakers might do were they to produce new utes | Budget Direct Car Insurance illustrations by NeoMam

While the Chevrolet El Camino and Ford Ranchero might have cult-car status in the United States, the car-based pickup truck known as the “ute” became a national institution in Australia and New Zealand.

The architecture resulted from a letter from a farmer’s wife to the manager of Ford’s Australian assembly plant in the 1930s. She asked why there wasn’t a vehicle that could carry sheep to market during the week but also carry a couple to church on Sunday.

The plant manager passed the letter along to a young and recently hired car designer, who created what became known as the “ute.” In addition to Ford, GM’s Aussie affiliate Holden produced popular utes. 

Amid reports that Hyundai Australia is considering its own entry into the Down Under world of car-based pickups, Budget Direct Car Insurance commissioned NeoMam Studios to produce “what if” sketches of what utes might look like were they produced by 8 different automakers. 

See what you think. We’re presenting them in alphabetical order — well, with one exception that we saved for last — and with text from Budget Direct, but go ahead and pick your favorite and share your Comment. Were you the head of any of the car companies included, would you put your engineers and designers to work to take sketch to production? 

Audi

“Our Audi Ute is inspired by the grille, bonnet, windscreen, and underpinnings of the gorgeous RS4 Avant. It’s essentially an Audi RS4 or RS5 from the nose to the B-pillars – nice if you’d like your Audi pickup to be a bit sporty. Beyond that, though, this sport-luxury ute is a utility vehicle at heart. 

“Naturally, the Audi Ute comes with Quattro all-wheel-drive and a stonking 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged TFSI motor producing 331 kW (444-horsepower) and 600 Nm of torque (we lifted this directly from the RS4 Avant). The 8-speed automatic Audi Ute has no trouble rushing from zero to 100 kph in around 4.1-seconds with a full load of cargo. 

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Chevrolet

“Our rendition of a modern Chevy Ute has the essence of a muscle car and the retro-classic appeal of Chevy’s iconic El Camino. The result is a chopped-up Camaro with two doors, two seats, and a long bed in the back – precisely what a new El Camino should look like. 

“Don’t get us wrong, we love the fact Chevrolet is back in Australia with the massive Silverado. But we decided to offer a smaller, lighter ute with enough power to outrun the average dinky, overpriced sports car in a drag strip. Equipped with either a naturally-aspirated or supercharged 6.2-liter V8, this muscular ute means business. Attention Chevrolet: the ball is in your court!”

Dodge 

“It would be heretical to create a Chevy ute without coming up with an equivalent Dodge. Sadly, Dodge has stopped selling cars and SUVs in Australia since 2012. But rumors are fresh about the impending arrival of both the Dodge Charger and Challenger (which has still yet to 

materialize so far), so we took those as our starting point for the Dodge Ute. 

“Our Dodge Ute has the proportions of the Challenger with the face of a Charger. It also has two seats and a long bed (to carry an extra set of racing tires). We couldn’t leave out the massive hood up front and those quintessential hood scoops – all the better to feed the hungry 707-horsepower supercharged V8 we pulled from the Dodge Hellcat.” 

Ferrari

“Ferrari’s been busy. The Italian supercar-maker unveiled five new models in 2019, and capped it off with the hand-bitingly gorgeous Roma GT. But for the Ferrari Ute, we shifted our focus to the Portofino and its V8 motor up-front. The Ute, like the Portofino, is a 2-seater but we’ve replaced the folding hardtop roof with a fixed unit. Our unlikely pickup us powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.9-liter V8 motor, a seven-speed dual-clutch tranny, and a rear-wheel drivetrain 

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“The Italian car gods might scoff at the idea of a Ferrari utility vehicle. But hey, if someone could convince Ferrari to make the Purosange SUV, why not add ‘Ferrari Ute’ to the comments and suggestions card? “

Honda

“For all intents and purposes, Honda already has a proper ute with the Ridgeline. Sadly, it’s not sold here, so we came up with something based on a Honda vehicle sold in Australia: the Civic. We’ve moved the Honda Ute’s wheel arches closer to the shoulder line, giving it a low-riding, sporty vibe. It’s also a lot smaller than other utes in this list. 

“In terms of engine power, we’re betting on the turbocharged VTEC motor in the Civic VTi-L or RS. Producing 228 kW (305 horsepower), this Honda Ute is not short on power for some good old driving fun. “

Renault

The French don’t buy utes. Instead, they follow their natural inkling toward small, comfortable runarounds such as the Renault Megane (especially the hot Megane RS). With a front-end based on the current Megane RS — a spectacular-looking ‘hot hatch’ — this Renault Ute has all the makings of a winner. 

“Although it’s the smallest ute in this bunch, our Renault Ute is practical and fun. We extended the bed to accommodate baskets of flowers, wine, cheese, and baguettes, and put a powerful, 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder motor under the hood. The six-speed manual comes as standard.

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Tesla

“The electric car revolution started with Tesla Roadster v1.0, followed by Models S, X, and 3. Now, the world awaits the impending dominance of the incoming Model Y crossover and the bizarre Cybertruck. Tesla has become the biggest automaker in U.S. history with a market capitalization of around $81.4 billion, beating Ford and General Motors. As of January 2020, Tesla surpassed $100 billion in market value to trample Volkswagen AG. But they haven’t got a ute, have they? 

“We’ve created a Tesla Ute for you and Elon Musk’s convenience. Instead of cutting down the Cybertruck or Model X from the B-pillars, we insisted on a ute based on the upcoming Roadster v2.0 to keep things racy. Will the Tesla Ute have 10,000 Nm of torque and a zero to 100 kph time of 1.9-seconds? Yes, and yes! How about the Space X package with those cold gas thrusters for some added shove? You bet!”

Rolls-Royce

“Similar to Ferrari, Rolls-Royce couldn’t resist the allure of a proper SUV. The result is Cullinan, the world’s most premium sport utility vehicle. But how about a full-on ute, eh? We threw out the designs for the Cullinan, and based our ute on the Rolls-Royce Wraith (because it’s a proper luxury coupe with two doors). We couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve done. 

“When was the last time (or the first time) you saw a ute with ‘suicide doors’? We transferred them from the Wraith, and they look rather jolly nice. But what a standard Wraith doesn’t have is a long bed to carry your Hermes luggage bags, a throng of shotguns and rifles for hunting season, and maybe a keg or two of your favorite liquor – all of which are hidden from plain view by a standard bed cover.” 

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Larry , Great article and renderings. My wife and I were traveling that area a couple of years ago and I looked into importing one to US upon our return… a very restrictive and expensive proposition. I think Gm and Ford missed an opportunity by not offering them to US market. It’s fun to think about “what if”

    • To do research on my book on the revival of the Chevrolet Camaro, I spent several days in Australia and was able to borrow a Corvette-powered ute from Holden. It was like driving a Corvette with a pickup bed, albeit while sitting on the right-side of the cockpit instead of the left.

  2. Completely ridiculous exercise because there is no Ford. Absolute insult to injury….a Honda and Ferrari? Nonsense!

  3. It could be done by a small team of designers and workers from each company. But you let the bosses near the project and they will stuff it.

  4. Great reading. As for Ford, who hasn’t really got a full-size car left, why bother? Their offerings in the past are the basement priced current models. Quality was lacking, along with power. Question about the Vette though. You would have to go with the 2019.

  5. As of this writing, I wholeheartedly agree with Perry, L, Thomas, and Skeeter! Not so much with Spudsly. My dad was, my brother is, and I have always been a Ford man. I have a Ranchero that I’ve really enjoyed since it’s been in my care, custody and control. There’s nothing like the combined styling and practicality of a “real Ute!” I’d sure like to see one produced by FORD again! As Larry said, “The ball is in your court!”

  6. Well, to answer your question, “What if more automakers produced ‘utes’?” They would all look just like their cars but with a bed on the back.

  7. Ford Lightning was the last of the US UTE’s. Everything now in pickups is a case of “P” envy. Taller, bigger and uglier. Pickups today are crap. US car makes have missed an opportunity they cannot see when it comes to UTE’s.

  8. I have owned several Rancheros and loved them! I also own a 1994 Ford Lightning that is a hi-performance F150 that, with all respect, is far from being ute like.

  9. Interesting exercise. Always liked the car-based pickups. While writing an article for Hemmings several years ago about the former Hudson museum in Shipshewana, Indiana, I had the privilege of seeing and sitting in a couple of custom Hudson utes. Beautiful cars (trucks). Somewhere in my files I have a picture of an early 1980s styling exercise by Chevrolet for a Citation-based ute. Apparently it was a running vehicle because I remember it being parked on a suburban street in the picture. I worked for Ford for a while in the late 1970s, just long enough to qualify for a company car. I ordered a final year Ranchero with as much comfort and luxury as I was allowed to. Unfortunately, Ford ended the program I worked on. I no longer worked for them and never got the Ranchero.

    Something I saw in the early and mid 1960s in South Carolina has stuck with me as a home built alternative to both regular pickups, as well as the El Caminos and Rancheros. Some farmers would take big station wagons and cut off the roof just behind the front seat. The result was a car with an 8 foot bed, although the handling must have been terrible with the rigidity of the car ruined by removing the roof. I saw these vehicles in use on farms, but never truly understood the purpose. A pickup with an 8 foot bed provided the same utility without the handling problems. I suppose it was a cheap way to get the utility of a pickup with an old station wagon that was no longer usable on the road. Some of these same farmers also removed the rusted out bodies from old trucks, built flat wooden beds on the back and used them to do work around the farm. They were just the drivetrain, wheels, frame, firewall, instrument panel, seat and a long wooden bed out back. The ultimate in utility, I guess.

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