Impressively for a company with only two model lines, Isuzu Ute has posted 20,773 sales this year, up 9.7 per cent. This makes it Australia’s 15th most popular brand, between Audi and Suzuki.
What’s surprising is the continued strength of the company’s D-Max ute and MU-X off-road wagon, though both are now — it would be fair to suggest — off the pace in terms of cabin infotainment, driver-assist technologies and interior presentation.
Instead, Isuzu is trading on its core assets — reliability and price. Its truck-sourced 3.0-litre diesel engine is de-stressed and faithfully bulletproof, and its factory backed campaign prices are at the sharp end, rivalling fellow value leader Mitsubishi.
In a market increasingly dominated by swish $60,000 luxury utes such as the Ford Ranger Wildtrak, Isuzu’s honest toiler remains in high demand from private buyers who eschew pretension, and business/rental/mining/government fleet managers who care about the bottom line.
Leading the charge is the venerable D-Max ute. Reflecting a conscious pivot, it's the D-Max 4x2 that’s performing better, with 4626 sales this year to be up 55.5 per cent, now fourth in segment behind the Toyota HiLux, Ranger and strong Mazda BT-50.
It may be some way off the top-selling 4x2 HiLux (10,167), but the D-Max is ahead of 4x2 versions of the Mitsubishi Triton, Nissan Navara, Holden Colorado and the Australia-made Holden Ute. In November the Isuzu finished third-in-segment behind only HiLux and Ranger, despite being diesel-only unlike some rivals.
Things aren’t as positive in the higher-volume and more profitable 4x4 market, where D-Max sales have fallen 3.7 per cent to 9857 in a segment up 9.1 per cent. Still, its 7.4 per cent market share exceeds the BT-50 and Volkswagen Amarok.
Year-to-date, Isuzu has sold 14,483 D-Max utes, which places it ahead of the BT-50 (13,418) and Amarok (7669), though it's some way off the HiLux (38,018 and Australia's number-one-selling vehicle) and Ranger (33,567), and trails the Triton (19,791), Colorado (17,173) and Navara (15,769).
In November however, the D-Max range managed to beat its platform-sharing Holden Colorado twin, which was just heavily facelifted and the subject of a huge marketing push. The combined 4x2 and 4x4 tally was 1410 units for the Isuzu and 1408 for the Holden.
Perhaps more impressive than the D-Max’s sales are the MU-X’s, which now has a whole suite of newer and much-hyped rivals in the Ford Everest, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Toyota Fortuner — brands with more marketing dollars and much larger dealer networks.
Yet the aged MU-X with its rugged simplicity and 1990s cabin feel has managed 6290 sales this year, up 9.6 per cent, and is well ahead of these three contenders: Pajero Sport 5406, Fortuner 3714 and Everest 3260 — though Ford’s margins are no doubt superior. The MU-X has also outsold the Jeep Grand Cherokee (5922).
It’s also well ahead of its Holden Colorado 7 platform-mate (3101), and that car’s new replacement, the Holden Trailblazer, will surely have its work cut out.
It’s interesting to note these sales, frankly, because Isuzu is showing that there are still buyers — be they fleet or private, mostly in the country — who can be persuaded into product that lacks modern amenities compared to key rivals. The fact both Isuzus still have five-star ANCAP ratings like rivals helps, too.
Further good news for Isuzu Ute is that, while no fully new models are due for a few years yet — these will be co-developed with Mazda, which has ditched Ford to shack up with its fellow Japanese brand — at least it’ll score some updates early in 2017.
Isuzu is keeping quiet, though we’d imagine the MY17 D-Max and MU-X models will get a fettled Euro 5 diesel engine, which we understand from the network should remain a 3.0-litre, and potentially some updated cabin trims/amenities — though this isn’t confirmed.