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The Aussie ‘ute’ explained.

Why do Americans call what Australians call ‘utes’ trucks?

No matter where you are in the world, each culture has their own unique linguistic eccentricities. This is especially prevalent for the motor and transport category with words thrown around like “lorrie”, “bonnet”, “motorway” and “zebra crossing” which are all called something different depending on which country you’re standing in. This is the exact reason why the Australian ute which is an abbreviation for utility vehicle is referred to by Americans as a truck. It’s really not uncommon in our world for locales to adopt their own unique terminology for the same object.

The term ‘ute’ is simply Aussie slang.

The Australian automotive industry has been protective over the term ‘ute’ since it was invented by Ford Australia in the 1930s known as the Coupe Utility. Utes are seen as an integral part of Australian culture and the American term truck, derived from the discourse “pickup truck” has been viewed by some motor enthusiasts as unpatriotic language.

However, there are some distinct historical differences between the two; the ute is basically a two-wheel-drive, traditional passenger vehicle with an integrated passenger tray to the body of the vehicle. In Australia, utes have been derivative of locally made sedan ranges such as Ford Falcons, Commodores and Kingswoods which all at one stage were transitioned into ute versions to cater for the Australian market.

By definition, these traditional older style utes are being phased out within Australian society. This is evident as popular dealers such as Ford are beginning to refer to the newer Ford Ranger which under Australian vernacular is still called a ute is now openly being referred to officially as a truck throughout their marketing collateral and website content.

How did the pickup truck get its name?

model t pickup brochure

Ford Motor Company introduced the first “pickup” based on the Model T Runabout in 1925. Ford offered customers a rear “pickup box” separately at their dealership spare parts department for a mere $25. Then this accessory was bolted to the back of the customer’s vehicle. Since the box was “picked up” at the parts department by the customer, the term “pickup” took hold for this style of vehicle. Later the box was installed at the factory and evolved into today’s pickup trucks.

Utes are being replaced by trucks.

Australian industrial, residential and mining regions are no longer scattered with the traditional Aussie-built ute. In fact, these areas are swarming with models such as the Toyota HiLux, Mazda BT-50, Mitsubishi Triton, Isuzu D-Max, Nissan Navara and the aforementioned Ford Ranger (not old school Falcon or Commodore utes). Understandably, the Australian market was calling for a more practical, spacious and robust workhorse design for everyday use which is in fact derivative of the American pickup truck.

But the term ‘ute’ isn’t going anywhere.

Despite the intricacies of language use, Australians won’t stop referring to all “trucks” as utes as long as they’re on Australian shores. This is part of the Australian vernacular history and similar to words like tea, billy and barbie, Australian meanings for particular words can vary dramatically to the USA. In conclusion the term ute is just part of the Australian cultural makeup passed down from one generation to another.


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