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Ute wars

Suzuki Auto's Adam Le Fevre says a dual cab Equator has been on his wish list for some time, as it has with Suzuki Australia.

Benz is considering the G-Professional ute, a heavy-duty workhorse based around the military G wagons. Suzuki is looking at bringing in the Equator, a re-badged Nissan Navara sold in the US since 2009.

On the G-Professional, Mercedes-Benz Australia's senior communications manager David McCarthy says: "It's a long way off being a certainty but they do make a dual cab and that would potentially be in the mix." 

Being tested here this year are two G-Professional vehicles - a cab-chassis ute and wagon; back in Germany there is also a dual cab available.  Now, with Australian defence orders for the G-Class, Mercedes-Benz Australia is looking at the business case and opportunities for local fleet sales into mining and heavy-duty industries for utes and wagons.

The Professional G-class - on a beefier chassis than the civilian G-Class wagon, runs a 140kW and 400Nm V6 diesel coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission; four-wheel drive is fulltime with a two-speed transfer case and three differential locks.

In Queensland, Suzuki Auto Company general manager Adam Le Fevre says a dual cab Equator has been on his wish list for some time, as it has with Suzuki Australia. 

Discussions continue with head office in Japan but there remain issues about right-hand drive versions - the North American Equator is built there as left-hand drive only, Nissan's Thai factory produces right-hand drive Navaras and the Spanish factory is geared for only a limited number of right-hand drives.

"Our counterparts in Melbourne are pretty keen to have it on the list too," says Le Fevre.  "The crew cab is what we'd be happy with, diesel and petrol. It's sold in the States with a petrol V6, that wouldn't do as well, we'd have to have the diesel.

"It's not going to happen immediately, don't think we're going to see it straight away but you have to keep looking down the track."  The Benz and Suzuki would join a growing number of dual cabs, most now destined for work and play with more refinements and safety features than before, on the Australian market.

Newest is Volkswagen's Amarok, adding a Euro-touch to an area until now dominated by Japanese manufacturers. Toyota's HiLux remains a top-seller, Nissan's Navara and the Mitsubushi Triton are well-established competitors with all-new offerings about to be released by Ford and Mazda plus a reworked Holden Colorado not too far away.

More than 15,000 four-wheel drive utes were sold through Janaury and February according to VFACTS, grabbing 9.8 per cent of the total market to date. Two-wheel drive utes have lost traction, down 11 per cent on last year's sales.