After decades of Holden versus Ford rivalry, the new battle at the top of the sales charts is between a pair of utes, as Australians continue to buy them in huge numbers.
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The Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger have been our top two selling vehicles outright for the past three years in a row, as Australians continue to embrace utes in huge numbers.

And the Toyota HiLux has held the number one spot for four consecutive years, since 2016 when it became the first ute in Australian automotive history to top the charts.

The shift to double-cab utes comes as they have become safer, roomier, better equipped, and more like an SUV to drive.

They also appeal to our sense of adventure, are ideal for towing boats and caravans, and are capable off the beaten track.

The battle at the top has not been easy for Toyota or Ford and buyers have been the big winners as each brand has kept prices sharp to stay ahead of – or overtake – its rival.

Rarely are there consistently good deals on Australia’s two most popular vehicles, but that’s the case with this pair.

The Toyota HiLux SR5 double cab four-wheel-drive with automatic transmission (powered by a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel) has hovered around $53,990 drive-away for the better part of the last two years, a discount of about $6000 off the full RRP.

Sometimes the price is written in bold type on Toyota’s website (which it is currently),while other times the savings are described as “free on-road costs” and can require a little more haggling at the dealership.

Discounts on the Ford Ranger XLT double cab four-wheel-drive are less frequent, even though this generation has been around since mid 2011 (versus the current generation Toyota HiLux introduced mid 2015).

Customarily, discounts get bigger as a vehicle gets older, but Ford has made significant upgrades to the Ranger along the way to help it stay ahead of the competition in many regards.

The Ford Ranger XLT double cab four-wheel-drive is currently $54,990 drive-away for the 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel with six-speed auto, or you can add $1500 to upgrade to the twin turbo 2.0-litre with 10-speed auto.

The drive-away prices for the Ford Ranger XLT might be $1000 to $2500 dearer than the Toyota HiLux SR5, but they amount to similar savings, about $6000 off the full RRP.

Despite the similar price point, there are several equipment differences between the two vehicles.

On the Ford Ranger XLT, standard fare includes a tub liner, 12V power to the ute tray, illumination under the sports bar, front and rear parking sensors, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a digital speed display, and a higher towing capacity on the automatic (3500kg versus 3200kg on the HiLux auto).

The Ford Ranger XLT has come standard with a tow bar since mid 2011; Toyota added it to the HiLux SR5 as a running change about three years ago.

Following recent safety upgrades, both utes now have speed sign recognition and autonomous emergency braking.

However, the Toyota HiLux does have some advantages over the Ford Ranger XLT, too, such as larger front brakes, 18-inch wheels and tyres (versus 17s), and radar cruise control as standard (it’s optional on the Ranger XLT model grade).

Detailed sales data reveals the battle within the battle between these two utes, and just how tough the competition is at the top of the market.

The peak monthly sales for both nameplates was in June 2017, when they each topped the 5000 mark for the first time (Toyota HiLux 5461, up 18.4 per cent; Ford Ranger 5051, up 23.8 per cent).

The Toyota HiLux then smashed it out of the park the following year, posting 5788 sales in June 2018, a record monthly high for the model that still stands today.

The Ford Ranger fell shy of 5000 sales on that occasion, but it has since fought back.

The overall national sales tally for all motor vehicles is measured by nameplate.

When 4x2 and 4x4 models are combined – as is standard industry practice – the HiLux has a comfortable lead over the Ford Ranger because of the number of 4x2 models Toyota sells.

Indeed, the Toyota HiLux has been the top-selling 4x2 heavy duty, body-on-frame ute since the year 2000, when it overtook the Holden Rodeo.

And it has been the best-selling 4x2 ute outright since 2006, when it overtook the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore utilities of the day.

However, the battle in the 4x4 (and primarily double cab) ute category has been getting tougher for Toyota.

Ford Ranger 4x4 models have outsold Toyota HiLux 4x4 models on 29 individual months since August 2015; the closest margin was in January 2018 when the gap was just 12 sales and the biggest margin was in September 2017 when the gap was 862 sales.

The Ford Ranger also outsold the Toyota HiLux in the 4x4 category for eight months in a row last year, its longest winning streak.

It was the second time the Ford Ranger had outsold the Toyota HiLux in the 4x4 category in the annual sales race in the past three years (2019 and 2017).

As you might imagine, this has caught the attention of Toyota, which has privately expressed concern about combatting its rival.

Publicly, Toyota says it welcomes competition as it compels both companies to build better vehicles – and customers (presumably) get a better deal.

Which is why it will be interesting to watch the battle between these two utes in the coming months.

The Ford Ranger had outsold the Toyota HiLux in the 4x4 category for the first three months of 2020 – and currently leads the year-to-date 4x4 tally, to the end of April.

However, interruptions to production due to COVID-19 factory shutdowns will likely end the Ford Ranger 4x4’s current winning streak.

Ford shut its Thailand factories for six weeks, Toyota shut its Thailand factories for four weeks; both are now ramping back up to full capacity.

As CarAdvice reported last week, some Ford dealers are reporting stock shortages whereas Toyota dealers have pumped the brakes on the arrival of an updated model (originally due in late July) and pushed it back several months because they have too much stock to clear following the April lockdowns across Australia.

Either way, as long as the competition is this tight at the top of the new-car market, Australians are likely in for a good deal.

Our changing taste in cars: top sellers since 1950

1950 to 1981 – Holden sedan (various models)
1982 to 1988 – Ford Falcon
1989 to 1991 – Holden Commodore
1991 to 1995 – Ford Falcon
1996 to 2010 – Holden Commodore
2011 to 2012 – Mazda3
2013 to 2015 – Toyota Corolla
2016 to 2019 – Toyota HiLux

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics and Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, compiled by Joshua Dowling.