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Ute red flag! Are Australia's Ford Ranger, Toyota HiLux and Isuzu D-Max best-sellers creating a cash-stressed generation that's too American in values and taste?

Say what you will about the latest Ford Ranger, but it's set to be the final-ever Australian-designed and engineered vehicle.

For the first time in history, Australia's top three selling vehicles over a one-year period are utes, led by the Ford Ranger and very closely followed by the Toyota HiLux, with the Isuzu D-Max taking the bronze podium.

All are big, bulky and bold, featuring tough separate-chassis construction and – Ranger Raptor flagship aside – leaf-sprung rear ends, just like trucks have since the early 1900s, boasting wide exhausts spewing out deadly diesel emissions (though Raptor gulps down petrol).

Plus, many are often nudging six figures post a personalisation splurge through the options catalogue, resulting in very conspicuous displays of excess and wealth that may seem too far out of reach for most ordinary Australians, as well as out of step with traditional values.

But buyers clearly don't care. Whether you're in Brighton, Birdsville or Broome, it's difficult to miss these five-metre-plus and circa 2.5-tonne behemoths. A little bit of American Badlands right in our very own backyard.

Which raises questions – and unearths some very unexpected answers.

After seven years on top, the Toyota HiLux was not Australia's bestselling vehicle in 2023.

Consider affordability. Unlike in the past, when Australian-made cars and their ute spinoffs provided mass affordability, are consumers now forced to spend home-deposit money just to keep up with the Joneses in their respective Wildtraks, Rogues and X-Terrains?

And in our relentless pursuit to make that happen, what price exactly are we paying moving right away from the sophisticated passenger car and headlong towards early-20th Century truck tech, dumbing-down our tastes in the process?

Let's find out.

The Isuzu D-Max rose from eighth place to number three in the sales charts in 2023.

Are we paying too much?

So, based on the three best-selling models last year compared to those of five, 10 and 20 years prior, are Australians paying more than ever before?

The combined sales of the Ford Ranger, Toyota HiLux and Isuzu D-Max accounted for nearly 13 per cent of the entire market in 2023.

The existing Toyota HiLux dates back all the way to the middle of last decade, as this 2018 example shows.

Adding each one's average price of $56,170, $48,030 and $46,850 respectively when taking in every grade from the lowly cab-chassis 4x2s to the loaded luxury 4x4 flagships gives us a figure of $151,050.

Surely that's some sort of record-high, right?

2018: Two utes and a car

Significant improvements in the latter half of 2018 helped maintain the Ford Ranger's popularity.

It's complicated. Going back five years to the end of 2018 when the top three comprised of two trucks and a car – HiLux, Ranger and the venerable Toyota Corolla small car – their range-average prices (adjusted for inflation in 2024 dollars) of around $52,600, $59,000 and $30,000 tallied up to a still-high $141,500.

That's only about six per cent cheaper. And the utes were far-less flash than today's versions. This wasn't what we were anticipating.

The 2018 Corolla redesign ushered in an all-new and very high-tech powertrain for the long-lived series.

2013: How about two cars and a ute in the top 3?

Travelling a decade back to 2013, which was the year Ford and Holden announced their intentions of pulling out of Australian manufacturing altogether after freefalling Falcon and Commodore sales, the fact that the best-sellers were two small cars and a ute – Corolla, Mazda3 and HiLux – should raise no eyebrows. Big sedans and wagons were toast.

Yet, through the spectrum of SUV-crazy 2024, the lack of a crossover on the sales podium as recently as 10 years ago seems unimaginable.

The Mazda3 enjoyed immense sales success for a decade following its 2004 launch.

Anyway, adjusted for inflation, the Corolla, Mazda3 and HiLux's respective prices in today's dollars were around $32,900, $37,200 and $51,000, adding up to a tad over $121,000. That's 20 per cent less than 2023's top-three sales performers.

Australians were clearly more-sensible back then!

The Toyota Corolla was the best selling vehicle in Australia in 2013.

2003: Aussie, Aussie, Africa!

It seems like another lifetime ago, when two of the three best-selling cars – the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon – were made in Australia while the Corolla back then was imported from Japan (via South Africa).

These were the days when governments and businesses were encouraged to buy locally made, helping to explain that while the 2013, 2018 and 2023 top-three collectively held around 10 to 13 per cent of the market, the 2003 trio effectively more-than-doubled that to 26 per cent.

The Toyota Corolla has been as staple of Australian motoring since mid-1967.

But the more shocking revelation is just how much they cost when adjusted for inflation. Commodore averaged $70,600, Falcon was nearly $72,300 and even the humble Corolla nearly cracked $45,400. Together, they added up to nearly $188,300 in 2024 dollars.

Blame the Australian-made SSs, FPV GTs, Maloos and Super Pursuit utes.

2003 was the last great sales year enjoyed by the Ford Falcon in Australia.

Didn't see this conclusion coming...

It appears that while truck-based utes are obviously more expensive than cars, Aussies were not better off financially 20 years ago compared to today – in fact, they paid more despite the VY Commodore and BA Falcon ranges being locally designed, engineered and built.

That's an unexpected turnout.

The Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon were Australia's bestsellers for over 25 years from 1978.

But, the cars from 2003 seemed to be more in line with the values of today when it comes to their carbon footprint and environmental impact, just by dint of being significantly lighter and smaller than the big utes and SUVs that prevail today.

Still, while we're following America down the pick-up road, at least we're not as substantially worse-off financially as many had feared.

The Toyota HiLux has never strayed too far from the bestsellers list in Australia.

Go figures...

The table below shows the average price of the three best-selling vehicles in 2023, 2018, 2013 and 2003, followed by their annual sales figures and percentage of the total market overall,

Ford Ranger$56,17063,356 /5.2%
Toyota HiLux$48,03061,111 /5.0% 
Isuzu D-Max$46,85031,202/2.6%


Toyota HiLux $42,831$52,59651,705/4.5%
Ford Ranger$47,977$58,91442,144/3.7%
Toyota Corolla$24,395$29,95635,320 /3.1%


Toyota Corolla$24,697$32,91043,498/3.8%
Toyota HiLux$38,305$51,04439,931/3.5%


Holden Commodore$40,388$70,624103,764/11.4% 
Ford Falcon$41,332$72,27493,432 /10.3%
Toyota Corolla$25,950$45,37736,128 /4.0%

* Inflation figures courtesy of the RBA's online calculator.

Byron Mathioudakis
Contributing Journalist
Byron started his motoring journalism career when he joined John Mellor in 1997 before becoming a freelance motoring writer two years later. He wrote for several motoring publications and was ABC Youth radio Triple J's "all things automotive" correspondent from 2001 to 2003. He rejoined John Mellor in early 2003 and has been with GoAutoMedia as a senior product and industry journalist ever since. With an eye for detail and a vast knowledge base of both new and used cars Byron lives and breathes motoring. His encyclopedic knowledge of cars was acquired from childhood by reading just about every issue of every car magazine ever to hit a newsstand in Australia. The child Byron was the consummate car spotter, devoured and collected anything written about cars that he could lay his hands on and by nine had driven more imaginary miles at the wheel of the family Ford Falcon in the driveway at home than many people drive in a lifetime. The teenage Byron filled in the agonising years leading up to getting his driver's license by reading the words of the leading motoring editors of the country and learning what they look for in a car and how to write it. In short, Byron loves cars and knows pretty much all there is to know about every vehicle released during his lifetime as well as most of the ones that were around before then.
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