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Don't worry about large American pick-ups such as the Ram 1500, Ford F-150, Toyota Tundra and Chevrolet Silverado. The market's already saturated | Analysis

Sales of Chevrolet Silverado remain strong. (Image: Mark Oastler)

The influx of full-size utes from the USA has been a controversial development, with WWII American GI-style sentiment along the lines of ‘over-sized, over-priced and over-here’ summing up the negative commentary.

CarsGuide is not alone in publishing opinion-based stories questioning the viability of these big rigs in local conditions. 

But an increasing number of people are loving them for their mega towing capacity, generous payload, easy driving performance and big cabin comfort.

So, how did we get here and is there much sales headroom left for these specialised heavy-duty haulers?  

Australia’s had an on-again, off-again relationship with full-size US utes, through sporadic factory programs or small-volume right-hand drive conversion specialists.

But it took Ram Trucks Australia, a subsidiary of long-standing local importer Ateco Group, biting a super-sized bullet in late 2013 to get things moving in a ‘big’ way.

A joint venture with Walkinshaw Automotive Group saw the Ram 2500 and 3500, both powered by a 6.7-litre Cummins six-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, remanufactured for right-hand drive in Clayton, Victoria. 

That is, a body-off rebuild taking around 100 man-hours and swapping out hundreds of parts to shift the steering wheel and align with Australian Design Rules.

Ram sales have declined in 2024. (Image: Matt Campbell)

And by the time the (slightly) smaller 5.7L petrol V8 1500 joined them in 2018 Ateco had taken ownership of that (American Special Vehicles) business, Ateco Group remaining the world’s only OEM-authorised manufacturer of RHD Ram trucks.

This month Ram marked no less than 30,000 sales in Australia since kicking the operation off just over a decade ago. A solid number for what started out as very much a niche offering. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Holden Special Vehicles debuted the 6.6-litre turbo-diesel V8 Chevrolet Silverado HD 2500 in 2018, later joined by the 6.2L V8 petrol-powered 1500 models, re-built in Clayton by Walkinshaw Group and still marketed by GMSV today.

But what’s that big blue oval coming over the horizon? Yep, Ford Australia was also keen for a piece of the action, announcing in early 2022 that the F-150 would officially be coming to Australia in 3.6-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol form. This time the reengineering work is done by RMA Automotive Australia in Melbourne and sales commenced late last year. 

Then none other than Toyota invited itself to the pick-up party announcing later in 2022 that it would bring the 3.4-litre twin-turbo, hybrid petrol V6 Tundra here, initially placed with 280 customers for local evaluation before almost certainly going on general sale later this year. And who else but Walkinshaw Group signed on to do the factory-approved engineering work.

The Tundra is near local sale. (Image: Stephen Ottley)

So, a trickle has turned into a flood. Or has it?

Cost-of-entry to the US pick-up club starts from $98,950 for the Ram 1500, rising to $106,950 for the Ford F-150, $130,500 for the Chevrolet Silverado, and if our mail is correct, $145,990 for the Toyota Tundra.

No small chunk of change relative to established dual cab utes like the Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux. And if you look at 2024’s year-to-date sales numbers, maybe the market for these big beasts has already reached saturation point.

In the first four months of 2023 Ram recorded 2218 registrations, which was no less than 55 percent up on the 1429 units sold in the same period the year prior. A handy result!

The Chevy Silverado chipped in with 825 units, which was a 49 per cent increase on its YTD number of 555 for 2022. We have another winner!

The F-150 is proven popular. (Image: Mark Oastler)

But fast forward to the same period this year and while the Silverado continues to build momentum with 1187 registrations (up 44 per cent), the Ram train appears to have pulled into a siding with sales for the first four months down 38.5 per cent (42 per cent for the 1500).

And lo and behold the Ford F-150 has kicked off the first four months or 2024 with 789 sales, almost exactly filling Ram’s 854 unit YOY shortfall.

Of course there are still new vehicle supply fluctuations impacting the market here and there and it’s worth noting the entry-level Ram 1500 DS has run out in Australia.

CarsGuide also understands the transition to Ram’s new ‘Hurricane’ in-line six-cylinder engine may be impacting production, while another whisper is the performance-focused 1500 RHO (powered by the Hurricane engine) is currently testing locally.

Insiders suggest there is still significant Ram demand to fill and Ford might be shifting even more F-150s if rumoured delivery issues weren’t getting in the way.

The Silverado continues to build momentum.

But aside from that scuttlebutt, while it looks like there may still be growth potential in this part of the market it’s unlikely to be as explosive as it has been over the last 18 months.

And keeping an eye on the numbers as the Toyota Tundra lines up to enter the fray will be very interesting.

James Cleary
Deputy Editor
As a small boy James often sat on a lounge with three shoes in front of him, a ruler between the cushions, and a circular drinks tray in his hands. He would then play ‘drivings’, happily heading to destinations unknown for hours on end. He’s since owned many cars, raced a few, and driven (literally) thousands of them at all points of the globe. He’s steered around and across Australia multiple times, spent time as an advanced driving instructor, and had the opportunity to experience rare and valuable classics here and overseas. His time in motoring journalism has included stints at national and international titles including Motor, Wheels and TopGear, and when asked to nominate a career highlight, James says interviewing industry legend Gordon Murray, in the paddock at the 1989 Australian Formula One Grand Prix was amazing, especially as Murray waived away a hovering Ayrton Senna to complete the conversation. As Deputy Editor, James manages everything from sub-editing to back-end content, while creating written and video product reviews, as well as the weekly 'Tools in the Shed' podcast.'
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