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The Holden ute is dead

Regardless of Holden manufacturing future, their ute is headed out to pasture.

holden utes galleryThe homegrown Holden ute is about to be retired forever, after clocking up almost 65 years on Australian roads. The Aussie icon has had its sales -- and hopes -- crushed by a flood of pick-ups imported from Thailand.

One in five of all new vehicles sold so far this year comes from Thailand, second only to Japan. Australian-made cars now account for less than one in 10 of all new vehicle deliveries; local production is at its lowest level since 1957.

Enthusiast buyers have less than three years to decide if they want a new Holden ute before it is relegated to the history books alongside the arch rival Ford Falcon ute by the end of 2016.

The end of an era means the Holden Commodore ute will likely reach cult status. When the Kingswood "one-tonner" ute eventually went out of production in 1984 and wasn't immediately replaced (a Commodore ute didn't surface until 1990) its resale values skyrocketed.

Holden would not comment on the future or the fate of the Commodore ute. But News Corp Australia has been told that if Holden continues manufacturing beyond 2016 it will adopt two new "global" cars, one of which is a large front-wheel-drive sedan that will not be made into a ute.

Holden's US police car export program could have given the Commodore ute a stay of execution because it shares its core underbody structure with the Caprice. But ute sales are now so low Holden bosses are poised to euthanize it.

Holden Commodore ute sales are down by a staggering 31 per cent year-to-date, the lowest sales of all time. The sedan and wagon are up 15 per cent since the new Commodore arrived. Holden cannot justify the investment in a new Commodore ute because buyers have shifted to Toyota HiLux-style pick-ups -- most of which are made in Thailand, where production labour rates are one-fifth of Australia's.

Adding salt to the wound, Australia has a Free Trade Agreement with Thailand and vehicles imported from the kingdom have attracted a zero per cent tariff since 2010.

The result has been catastrophic for local car manufacturers but the homegrown utes have been hit hardest. More than 100,000 4WD pick-ups from Thailand have been sold in Australia in the first nine months of this year alone, compared to just 4100 Commodore utes and 3500 Falcon utes. At their peak in 2004, Holden and Ford sold more than 20,000 utes each.

The Toyota HiLux was the second best-selling vehicle in Australia last year with more than 40,000 deliveries -- after leading the entire new-car market on six individual months. So far this year the Toyota HiLux is the third best-seller -- behind the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3 small cars -- but three other pick-ups regularly appear in the Top 10 (Nissan Navara, Ford Ranger, Holden Colorado).

It's not just the mining boom driving sales; about half of all imported utes are bought by small businesses and private buyers. "We've seen orders more than triple in the past five years," said Abe Tomas, managing director of Fleet and Financial Products at Macmillan Shakespeare, one of Australia's largest car leasing companies.

"A lot of companies are now using crew cab utes to replace station wagons. But they're also popular with private buyers because they're part 4WD, part family car and part ute. They're more of a lifestyle vehicles these days."

Holden built a four-door ute called the Crewman in 2004 to try to compete with imports, but the model was axed in 2006 because of weak sales. The market had already shifted towards roomier, diesel-powered imported crew cab utes.
How the Free Trade Agreement with Thailand killed the Aussie ute

Sales of Australian made vehicles were overtaken by Thailand in the very first year the Free Trade Agreement with Thailand came into effect, in 2010.

And Thailand has been powering ahead ever since. Sales of Thailand-made vehicles are up a staggering 46 per cent in the first nine months of this year -- and have already overtaken last year's annual tally.

Thailand-made vehicles are now on track to comfortably eclipse 200,000 sales in Australia this year for the first time.

Ford shipped just 100 Australian-made Territory SUVs to Thailand in 2012, the same year we imported 170,000 Thai-made vehicles.

Ford says there are no plans to ship more vehicles from Australia to Thailand. Holden says it has no plans to embark on similar a mission.

The Territory SUV may have a zero per cent import tariff in Thailand but it attracts a separate 40 per cent excise because of its engine size, pushing the price to $100,000 (compared to $40,000-$60,000 in Australia).

Australia versus the world: where your car comes from

Japan: 275,450 -- down 7 per cent
Thailand: 172,850 -- up 46 per cent
Korea: 102,950 -- down 6 per cent
Australia: 83,500 -- down 18 per cent

* Number of vehicles sold in Australia January to September 2013, percentage change compared with same period last year. Source: FCAI.

This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 49 comments

  • The Territory SUV may have a zero per cent import tariff in Thailand but it attracts a separate 40 per cent excise because of its engine size, pushing the price to $100,000 (compared to $40,000-$60,000 in Australia). As usual Australians are a dumb as dog Sh*&t, we sign a 'free trade' agreement with a third world nation, expecting they would honour the agreement, but guess what they slap a separate tax on our cars to protect their manufacturing. It just proves third world nations cannot be trusted.

    Richard W of Sydney Posted on 14 January 2014 10:12am
  • The crewman is a decent ute, Allwheel drive is great for sites, bit heavy, but why Holden or ford havn't put a decent turbo diesel engine in and see if sales move, not like the rattler thats in the colorado.

    utefan Posted on 19 November 2013 7:26am
  • Like all Australian Products "priced themselves out of the World and Local MARKETS" The Wages are the Problem . Asians can live on a $ and we have to have HEAPS MORE

    wolfgang kalisch of Australia Posted on 15 November 2013 3:29pm
  • Australia's car industry needs to shift if possible to making quality vehicles because we cannot compete with the low end on price.

    Stephen Brownlow of Sydney Posted on 14 November 2013 8:13pm
  • Who cares. Ford were the inventors of the ute in the first place, but its no big news they are not being made any more.

    Rohan Bell Posted on 13 November 2013 9:43am
  • Here come the butthurt comments about our government and its policies. Maybe it's not their fault and just the manufacturer's fault for not being able to compete with international sellers and shame on you holden for letting someone else from abroad do a better job in marketing than you in your own country.

    Ismile Kimura of Australia Posted on 12 November 2013 3:53pm
  • Its about time the Pollies made a smart decision and backed the Aussie car industry by stopping the crap from Thialand and China and gave the Aussie Consumer the extra bucks to buy Australian Made instead of throwing mega bucks at the car industry that will leave anyway, this is just a waste of money when the extra bucks should go to the Consumers who buy Australian Made Cars

    Arnold Bird of Perth Posted on 10 November 2013 8:11pm
  • Its an on-road sports coupe with 2 doors and a big boot. Not an off-road workhorse. I drive a plain-jane 1999 VS ute and its been apparent for some time that I wouldn't be able to replace it with another Commodore. GMH were directing a potential buyer to an imported light truck. Again Australian manufacturers don't build a car the market wants. Plan your sales mix to fail and then blow-me-down we'll have to shut the shop.

    sensible jack of molong Posted on 08 November 2013 4:29pm
  • Noooooo !. And Hoons don't drive all utes . How many peanuts do we see in riceburners . Go buy your shopping trolleys. I'll continue to support Aussie Grit , no matter if it is a Ford or a Holden. I may buy a Ute just to spite you and because I can afford it and may simply store it and drive it for fun !. See, they are slow to design , build and produce because you get what you pay for. Give me the growl of an Aussie muscle car anyday and no, I don't hoon. I love F1 which gives anyone an insight into speed tragedy and dangers.

    Peter of Port Augusta Holden Country Posted on 07 November 2013 8:29pm
  • the simple problem facing ALL manufacturing in Australia is that it just costs too much to make anything here, we have trade unions to thank for that, in regards to the auto industry here, not only does it cost too much to build and export here, the big 2 where to slow in changing what they produce, really, how many people would buy a fuel guzzling commodore or falcon when euro and asian manufactured vehicles are more economical, cheaper and better built?

    fastcraig of Darwin Posted on 07 November 2013 4:20pm
  • Who cares, Ford is dead and soon Holden!

    timex of Mooloolaba Posted on 07 November 2013 7:15am
  • Now what will the WANKERS that drove these vehicles chose to HOON around in?Let's hope it's not 4WD'S but that's probably no chance anyway because all the school Mum's drive these taxi's to drop off their darlings.

    Good Riddance of BrisVegas Posted on 06 November 2013 6:39pm
  • Not good news for the car industry but great news for road users who are sick and tired of the wankers that drive these vehicles.Just about every HOON imaginable grabbed one of these toolboxes and drove like IDIOTS.Now if we can only remove those 4WD'S before they change direction and buy them instead.Definitely not VALE the UTE.

    Good Riddance of BrisVegas Posted on 06 November 2013 6:37pm
  • if they were not so bloody expensive yeah maybe I would buy one

    john doe of Brisbane Australia Posted on 06 November 2013 2:55pm
  • Who cares - if you own a Ute,you neither have a car, or a truck. Come on up too Canada - I will show you some trucks. Utes should have been gone years ago, just because of the price of them.

    R. Mitch Mitchell of Canada. Posted on 05 November 2013 7:22am
  • Maybe Holden should listen to their customers. A commodore ute only carries 600kg and can only tow 2100kg at best. Make it heavier duty and you will sell them - remember they are used to carry and tow not just doing donuts in the desert!!

    Glen of Perth Posted on 04 November 2013 6:40pm
  • So there's the real problem. A free trade agreement with Thailand. Just wonder what opening the Thai market to Australian business does for us. Absolutely nothing I would guess. Why does the Australian Government (both sides) feel the need to be "good guys" and let every little sh.t hole of an economy have full and free access to the Australian market. Unless we have as much going to a country as we receive then a FTA only benefits the country with the lowest labour cost. Wake Up Australia before it is too late for any of our industries.

    Peter of Belmont Posted on 04 November 2013 10:36am
  • Its called corruption, The whole world is corrupt, end of story

    Nordic of Adelaide Posted on 04 November 2013 10:31am
  • So the "tax" on our cars isn't a tariff, we are crazy how they must laugh.

    John Posted on 03 November 2013 3:35pm
  • All government departments should be directed to use Australian Built cars, if no such car is available they should purchase one from a company that manufactures in Australia. Huge fleet deals like that would support manufacturing in Australia and also allow the reduction of grants to keep the companies going by giving them money to actually manufacture something.

    public servant of queensland Posted on 02 November 2013 9:38pm
  • What idiots are running his country? Time after time Governments are killing our industries. Wake up people of Australia!

    PR of Morley Posted on 02 November 2013 8:29pm
  • These utes ate useless on rough roads let alone off-road except perhaps a lawn. The old my old HQ ute was capable of some fairly serious farm work, these new commodore utes are just for posers. Holden itself killed the Holden Ute, nothing to do with Thailand or Japan, just stupid executive decisions.

    Graeme Henderson Posted on 02 November 2013 11:17am
  • you simply cannot let this industry die.

    brent matthews of bribane Posted on 02 November 2013 9:18am
  • Manufactures should stop complaining about the imports ans start building cars Australians want. People will pay a little extra for Australian built, but not the current over the top prices for a vehiciale that is not what they want.

    Stephen of Brisbane Posted on 02 November 2013 8:39am
  • The labour cost to build vehicles in Thailand is 20% of that to build vehicles here. Why is it then that a vehicle like the Ford Ranger 4x4 costs north of $40K when realistically it should cost something like $25K. Clearly Ford is gouging we Aussies and Dumb us, we put up with it by continuing to buy these vehicles. And the Fed and State governments aren't really trying hard to sort this out as they would miss out on assorted taxes, all of which are percentage based, halve the price of a vehicle, halve the tax raised. Sadly like a lot of consumer goods, it doesn't seem to matter if it is made here or not, we get ripped off, at least however if it is made here people are employed.

    cjd Posted on 01 November 2013 7:24pm
  • Finally we will see the end of these bogan chariots on our streets.

    Karl of Perth Posted on 01 November 2013 6:25pm
  • What a great idea that free trade agreement with Thailand was. We buy a gazillion cars and utes from them and they buy ...........................? from us.

    Gary of Narre Warren Posted on 01 November 2013 1:34pm
  • Just goes to show that price is the main factor for buyers, not quality. Great Wall, Mahindra, even most of the Isuzu range are so sub-standard it's not even funny. Check out their safety ratings too. Good one, buying public; in 10 years you'll be wishing you bought that GM instead of that Great Wall.

    Problem? Posted on 01 November 2013 10:16am
  • Holden haven't made a Ute for years! They do make a two seat race car. Cannot get a bench seat with a column Auto so you can fit three in the front when needed. I know people with a company car which is a dual cab ute. This is simply because of some accountants perception of a ute. These vehicles normally carry one person, and rarely anything in the tray back. There was a market place for a "Proper Ute" but holden and ford stopped making them long ago.

    PRW of Brisbane Posted on 01 November 2013 9:34am
  • I can't see the Deni Ute Muster dying just yet.

    Rick O'Shea of Bulimba Posted on 01 November 2013 6:19am
  • So we have a "Free Trade' agreement with Thailand, how many Australian built cars are being sold there with Zero tariffs? Another 'big well done' to governments for killing off Australian skills. End these BS 'free trade' agreements and watch things turn around, actually re introduce tariffs, just like the rest of the world has against Australia, now that's fair.

    Richard W of Sydney Posted on 01 November 2013 2:57am
  • Holden need to build Big utes like massive american Cevys then I would buy one BIGGER THE BETTER

    Steve of Perth Posted on 31 October 2013 4:02pm
  • The old FJ ute in the top image looks to my eye as more stylish and perhaps better aerodynamic. It is hard to believe that 50 years of technology later and that is all the progress they have to show for it? There is definitely room for modular utility vehicle offering add-ons to customise for the many applications that people need.

    Andrew Lechte of Australia Posted on 31 October 2013 2:11pm

    james hague of Australia Posted on 31 October 2013 2:09pm
  • Ford Ranger is designed in Australia and built in Thailand. why wont ford build their pick up trucks in Australia. Simple answer is to protect their profit margins. people need to realise sooner or later we are going to lose our car industry due to cheap labor overseas.

    Max Posted on 31 October 2013 1:11pm
  • Sad but true. The ute variant of the sedan car was always doomed to failure once the 'donor' floor pan sales dropped. Holden & Ford rely on the Commodore & Falcon for the bread and butter sales, the utes and wagons that flow from those sales are the jam on top.It is about time GMH stopped playing footsie with the government over support and told the truth. They WILL be leaving by 2016, they know it but won't say so until the cash dries up. To all those who moan and groan about it, ask your self, 'What brand of car do I drive, was it made here?' If you don't say Holden or Ford & Yes, you are the cause of the situation. Live with it.

    Grumpy ex Cop of Way out West Posted on 31 October 2013 11:15am
  • I haven't seen a real tradie drive a holden ute in years, most seem to be hoons who use their SS utes for very light duties and wheel spins. Even Holden ads tout utes as the "Ultimate sports machine" which is just a joke. Tradies seem to prefer traybacks as they allow for customisation for a purpose, are more rugged and they don't have to worry about damaging the paint in the tray.

    Ollygt of Brisbane Posted on 31 October 2013 10:05am
  • Ute sales are high, anf GM is stopping production of he Ausie ute ? Why dont they build what the people want. I want a ute that I can climb into without bumping my head. I want a ute that is a servant not a mistress. I get phone surveys every day from all kinds of companies but never has GM asked me what I want, and the dealers have never told Holden why I walked out without buying.

    Peter of Cooma NSW Posted on 30 October 2013 3:36pm
  • Andy (@ 2.22pm), who cares which silhouette car wins Bathurst? Everyone but a nincompoop knows these are neither Holdens nor Fords in the true sense.

    stevecro of Venice for now Posted on 29 October 2013 10:25pm
  • their big mistake was to "invent" a Crewman, the lamest of responses to the overseas crew cabs. This indicated to me an inability to answer the questions being asked on the showroom floor. Neither Ford nor GMH could respond quickly, efficiently or shrewdly to the OS invasion. Not blaming the Australian arms of the companies - they didn't get to choose their (U.S.) parents

    stevecro of Venice for now Posted on 29 October 2013 10:22pm
  • Shame to see the ute and all other unique Australian Fords and Holdens go. Australian Government policy created the car industry in the country and Australian Government policy has slowly destroyed it, starting with the Button Plan. In 2016, there will be a surge in Ford and Holden sales, (especially the range toppers) as people get the last of the line before they go forever. Though I think the last of the Ford utes will fare better in the future than the Holden in terms of resale and longevity, due to their chassis construction (like all the old HQ One Tonners). The style side unitary body of the Holden will only last if used as a show pony, not a workhorse.

    SVZ of 455 33249538 Posted on 29 October 2013 2:46pm
  • Andy of Qld...Bye bye Red Lion,..I believe that is Ford is already gone from this Country,(2016), and still sales drag other makes, so don't be too quick off the draw here. Ford always comes a poor second to the Red Lion, and always will in sales.

    Gary of Melbourne of Melbourne Posted on 29 October 2013 2:24pm
  • The shutdown of Holden manufacturing will slowly but surely destroy the brand in Australia. We have put up with inferior quality for decades in the name of supporting a local industry and jobs. Holden will become just another importer with yet another uninspiring lineup. HSV will go the way of the dodo as well without a rear drive Commodore or similar car to hot rod. I hope the bosses at GM realise that without the loyalty we have shown despite their failings, they have no real future in Australia! Sad to see such a well established brand with a huge history in motorsport here and overseas wasted because of bean counters. The same bean counters who almost sank GM previously with dull, cheaply made, low quality shitboxes in America.

    Fredd of Qld Posted on 28 October 2013 5:31pm
  • They can stop manufacturing here It still wont make me buy a piece of crap made in Thailand,Korea,China etc no matter what badge it has here. I have owned some and will never again. I will buy and old Holden instead.

    Getting ripped off Posted on 28 October 2013 5:05pm
  • It's a Holden so who cares, not a tough Falcon which is a far better car to lose in my opinion. Anyway FORD can win Bathurst with just 8 cars running. Bye Bye Red Lion

    Andy of Qld Posted on 28 October 2013 2:22pm
  • how is this an "aussie icon" when Ford Australia are the ones who designed and built the first ute? why isnt this article about the real aussie ute, build by Ford?????? Sure it isn't a coupe style body anymore but that shouldn't make any difference to the fact that Ford where the ones who came up with the idea (or at least got the idea off that lady back in the 30's) either way they had the balls to follow through with the idea

    Dave of Melbourne Posted on 28 October 2013 1:57pm
  • Not to mention the fact that nothing has been said by Holden that they are discontinuing the Ute. I am not saying it is safe - in fact it's future doesn't look too bright - but to explicitly claim that "The Holden ute is dead" is beyond a joke...

    Joshua Dowling needs a Brain Posted on 28 October 2013 12:21pm
  • I don't think any one, posing to support local manufacturing, has as few brains as Joshua Dowling. Always fear-mongering, trying to make it look like Holden's position is hopeless. All I can say is that he will definitely help make it hopeless by the type of articles he writes! Not just this article, but the one published on Friday - If you want Local Manufacturing, don't write these articles Josh!!!

    Joshua Dowling needs a brain Posted on 28 October 2013 6:34am
  • Aaand the Falcon ute Joshua? Oh that's right the precious Holden is all that matters. Ford AUSTRALIA invented the coupe ute

    Troll No. 66 Posted on 27 October 2013 10:43am
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