Strewth! There’s been a lot of noise the last week or so in the automotive world surrounding some seemingly not-so-patriotic language creeping into our local dealer showrooms. CarAdvice first flagged the issue some 12 months ago, but it seems only now the rest of Australia, including sections of the motoring media, is catching on.
Utes, a mainstay of Aussie car culture since we invented the bloody things back in the 1930s, are set to disappear from local showrooms replaced instead, by those most American of things, the truck, or to give them their correct nomenclature, the ‘pick-up’ truck. And this has, if you believe the multitude of social media channels that drive so much of today’s discourse, gotten up the collective noses like flies in a desert of a horde of patriotic and jingoistic Aussie car buyers.
“It’s not a truck. It’s a bloody ute. We’re Aussies, not Yanks,” is a typical rejoinder to the idea that our beloved ute is soon to be no more. Which, of course, it is.
Ford’s final Falcon ute rolled off the production line late last month while Holden will also soon cease production of its venerable workhorse, the Commodore ute. In their place will come a line of Thai-built twin-cab haulers such as the Ford Ranger and Holden Colorado. And yes, they will be called ‘trucks’. Which they are.
By definition, a ute is “usually two-wheel-drive, traditionally passenger vehicles with a cargo tray in the rear integrated with the passenger body”. Sounds about right. Typically, in Australia at least, utes have been derivative of our locally-made sedan range: from Ford Falcons to a succession of Holden-badged variants of the General’s four-door sedan fleet – from FJ Holden to Kingswood to Commodore, all have at one point received the ute treatment to cater to Aussie tradies far and wide.
But take a quick look on our roads, or visit a new housing development in any city, and you will soon notice that the Aussie-built ute is already a thing of the past. Toyota HiLuxes, Mazda BT-50s, Mitsubishi Tritons, Isuzu D-Maxes, Nissan Navaras and the aforementioned Rangers and Colorados dominate Aussie worksites. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a Falcon or Commodore ute working as a, well, workhorse. It seems our appetite for bigger, more practical and ever more comfortable workhorses is insatiable, as chippies, sparkies, plumbers, brickies and landscapers dump the venerable Aussie ute in favour of, pause and take a deep breath, trucks.
So it seems this latest disquiet is not so much about the loss of an Aussie icon itself, but rather the slipping from the lexicon of that most Australian of words, ute, in favour of yet another Americanism.
But we shouldn’t really be so tied up in knots about it all. After all, Americanisms have pervaded every part of our lives for what seems like an eternity (or at least since the end of the Second World War). And our automotive cultural and lexical landscape hasn’t escaped either.
We, as a nation of car lovers, have gladly adopted ‘muscle cars’ as a descriptor of big horsepower, V8-shod, fuel-guzzlin’, big banger sedans and coupes. We still like the idea of (even if we don’t buy them in the numbers we once did) ‘station wagons’ as opposed to ‘estates’. We monitor our engine revs on a ‘tachometer’ and not a ‘rev counter’, our four door cars are ‘sedans’ and not ‘saloons’ and when we first start our cars, they are at ‘idle’, not ‘tickover’.
And of course, most recently, no one lifted an eyebrow and murmured “hmmm’ and declared it was just another nail in our cultural coffin when SUVs irrevocably overtook the incumbent ‘four-wheel-drive’ as the preferred terminology for one of Australia’s largest new car segments.
Ultimately, none of this matters. While the marketers will insist that the car companies’ latest offerings are ‘trucks, the Earth will keep turning, the Sun will keep shining, you’ll keep paying taxes and tradies will still call their beasts of burden, ‘utes’.