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Don't bet on Aussies adopting hybrid and electric utes and 4WDs any time soon... | Opinion

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Only one full-electric ute is available to Aussies right now, but there are more hybrid ones coming soon.
Only one full-electric ute is available to Aussies right now, but there are more hybrid ones coming soon.

Any reports of the impending wave of hybrid and EV utes seem to be mostly based on wishful thinking, concepts, speculation, and industry gossip.

However, with vehicles like the LDV eT60 already here and the hybrid Toyota Tundra and mild-hybrid HiLux on their way, it’s only fitting that we consider whether hybrid and electrified utes have real potential as load-lugging work and play vehicles in Australia.

A ute used for work faces very specific and extreme demands: carrying loads in the tray, carrying people, tools and a dog or two in the cab, and it’ll likely do a lot of towing in its ‘lifetime’.

If it’s used for recreation, a ute will face demands just as extreme as its work duties: carrying loads in the tray, carrying people, camping gear and a dog or two in the cab … and, yes, even towing (think: a trailer with a jetski or a camper-trailer or a caravan or boat trailer or horse float etc).

So, will ute buyers adopt hybrid and electrification?

Hybrids

So, why not hybrids?

Well, they do seem the sensible option and a happy compromise between going full EV or staying with your combustion engine.

The technology has definitely improved in recent years and the prospect of a hybrid-assisted 3.5-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 Toyota Tundra (325kW/790Nm in US spec) is certainly an appealing one.

You can’t argue with a hybrid’s main drawcards: more power and better fuel economy.

And hybrids do have a better chance of tempting people than EVs, because the fuel option always offers plenty of appeal for people who need reliable work vehicles that can use readily available fuel sources.

And, sure, hybrid drivers are not slaves to range as EV drivers are (no matter what they tell you).

So, why not hybrids? They’ve worked well so far in city-based delivery and logistic fleets around the world, why not in utes.

Yes, but the world of utes is a lot more different to city-based fleet life: work utes face extreme demands, questionable job-site road or track conditions, and a high volume of sustained stress is placed on the engine, drivetrain and vehicle chassis itself over long periods of time.

If you've done any sort of towing, then you know the tremendous stresses and demands that it puts on a vehicle. And how much the weighty item you're dragging along the road affects your vehicle's fuel consumption. Those stresses and demands – and consequent elevated rate of fuel consumption – don’t magically disappear when you use a hybrid vehicle to tow.

The effect of all this on a hybrid ute is so far unknown. We all know how well a properly serviced, sensibly driven, good-quality diesel ute fares in theses conditions – very well, thank you – but a hybrid is an unknown quantity in these types of punishing circumstances.

Some real ute users will give hybrids a chance – maybe a lot will – but diesel utes are still going to be the work trucks of choice for a fair while yet.

EVs

So, why not EVs?

Battery-electric utes are not yet viable as work or recreational vehicles because of the same reasons 4WD EVs are not yet viable as adventure touring vehicles: range, charging infrastructure and price.

At the moment, the most-intriguing EV utes are those in the USA – the Rivian R1T, the GMC Hummer EV, the Chevrolet Silverado EV, the Ford F-150 Lightning, et al – and they are very heavy, very costly, and really do offer very little appeal in terms of driving range, especially when load is a factor.

The power-consumption claims of EV manufacturers are one thing, but real-world use is another.

For example, Rivian has claimed that its R1T has a driving range of 643km, but it won’t do anywhere near that distance fully loaded with tools, building supplies and a dog, or lugging a caravan along bush tracks.

The only EV ute on offer in Australia at time of writing – the 130kW/310Nm LDV eT60 – has a paltry range of 330km when it’s fully juiced, and that’s an unladen driving range figure.

So, you can reasonably expect it to have a driving range of about 150km if you load your LDV eT60 with camping equipment in the tub, while carrying two people and a dog in the cab. Note: it has a listed payload of 1000kg and does not have 4WD capabilities.

Throw on a small camper-trailer (1000kg braked towing capacity) and you’ll probably be looking for anEV charging station at around the 100km mark, or even earlier.

Did I mention that the LDV eT60 costs $92,990 (excluding on-roads)?

Also, I’m not impressed at all with Australia’s EV charging infrastructure.

At the moment, there aren’t enough charging stations on major or minor routes.

And, in the year I’ve been driving and testing EVs, I’ve found that charge points are often broken/non-functional, offline (for maintenance purposes) or, worse still, the parking space allocated to an EV for charging has been taken by a conventional vehicle.

Charging stations also vary in how easy they are to operate – case in point, some require a counter-intuitive sequence of events to happen and, god forbid, if you’re a guest to the charge station’s app and you’re too slow to enter your credit card details, your opportunity to charge “times out” and you have to start the process all over again.

Also, in terms of charge times, an EV is far from ideal and nowhere near as convenient as knowing that there’s a service station on pretty much every street corner, highway or regional road in Australia.

Tradies in utes need to be able to fuel up – or, in the future, charge up – quickly and at a convenient location. And so do recreational ute users because there are few things more annoying than going on a weekend trip with your family and having to wait for an hour to use an EV charge point.

There should be more EV charging locations (with more units at every location), they should be easy to use, and they should be operational.

What I reckon

Hybrids are the better bet, for now, if EVs are your only other choice.

I’m not emotionally invested in keeping my diesel ute – or am I? – but I’m old enough and ugly enough to acknowledge the fact that – for better or worse – diesel utes are here to stay … at least for another 20 years or so, and they’ll remain the work and weekend conveyance of choice until hybrid and EV tech improves greatly, charging infrastructure grows immensely, and EV prices come down.

Cue the hate mail.

Hey, I’m not anti-hybrid or anti-EV.

I see the appeal of hybrids for some, and I can’t wait for well-priced, comfortable and capable EV utes to hit Australia, but at the moment there aren’t any.

Marcus Craft
Contributing Journalist
Raised by dingoes and, later, nuns, Marcus (aka ‘Crafty’) had his first taste of adventure as a cheeky toddler on family 4WD trips to secret fishing spots near Bundaberg, Queensland. He has since worked as a journalist for more than 20 years in Australia, London and Cape Town and has been an automotive journalist for 18 years. This bloke has driven and camped throughout much of Australia – for work and play – and has written yarns for pretty much every mag you can think of. The former editor of 4X4 Australia magazine, Marcus is one of the country’s most respected vehicle reviewers and off-road adventure travel writers.
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