Specifically, in an era defined by economical small cars and practical SUVs — the latter of which are hardly exemplars of sex appeal — is there room for great Aussie ‘blue corner, red corner’ battlegrounds in our automative landscape?
Think, for instance, of the great multi-generational death match between two Australian-made, hyper-inflated, sedan-bodied testosterone boosters with V8 engines delivering grunt to the rear wheels. You know the pair I’m talking about.
See, the catalyst for my line of thinking was driving the new Ford Focus ST and Holden Astra VXR hot hatches. Holden. Ford. Hmm. Could these pocket rockets keep that most famous of brand rivalries aflame long after the Falcon and Commodore as we know them are dead and buried?
But then I thought about where else we’re seeing signposts of proper motoring rivalries, of the type that inspire impassioned promotion and defence from the true believers in equal measure. Cars that inspire people to fly the flag of allegiance loudly and proudly.
And then it became clear. The great new automotive battleground that defines our time, the one that has supplanted the Falcon versus Commodore measuring contest, is the fight between the Ford Ranger and the Toyota HiLux.
Few cars generate the kind of web traffic that this pair now does, few inspire such binary comments, in such innumerable volumes. You’re a Ranger person, or a HiLux person. At least that’s how it seems. No offense, but I don’t see much fervour for Tritons or Navaras by comparison.
Australia’s two stop-selling utes — and that’s just what this pair are — really do seem inspire something resembling lust that other cars simply aren’t. The Aussie-designed and engineered Ranger versus the old faithful, unbreakable HiLux, a staple that’s seen thousands of people through the toughest of times.
And its not just concrete- and mud-coated work trucks we’re talking about. Talk to any brand that makes utes. A huge percentage of sales are going to the top-spec ones, the former Foreman’s specials, with touchscreens, five-star safety and driver assist features galore. These are family cars for a new era, kid-carriers for weekend warriors.
Perhaps there’s something in the Australian psyche that is particularly attuned to ute culture.
Suitably, the Ranger is closing in on the HiLux in the sales race, though the trusty Toyota remains the king. Importantly, both are among the top-selling vehicles nationwide, of any variety.
When October rolls around and the new-generation HiLux arrives, Ford will have its world-beating upgraded Ranger waiting for it. And just look at the Blue Oval’s chatter surrounding it:
“You can buy a best-seller or cheaper alternative but nothing as good as the Ford Ranger,” Ford Australia president and CEO Graeme Whickman said last week. Tell me it isn’t tapping into something notable in the public psyche.
Toyota, the bear being poked in this scenario, is keeping a dignified silence and inwardly thanking Ford for the publicity. How fun is that?
For all intents and purposes, we’re living through an automotive paradigm shift. Falcon/Commodore? Nah mate, that’s for wimps. The more times change, the more they stay the same. (God, we’re going to need that 3.5-tonne towing capacity to carry all these cliches…).
Just as orange is the new black, Ranger v HiLux is the new Falcon v Commodore.
What do you make on this contention that the HiLux versus Ranger battle is THE automotive rivalry of this time period? What else might fit the bill?