It’s been a big year for big companies in Australia. As the Chevrolet Silverado and Ram lineup continues to attract new buyers, Ford Australia announced it would start selling right-hand drive F-150 pick-ups in 2023, and recently Toyota Australia has finally committed to bringing the Tundra Down Under.
There is a lot of plausible logic behind this decision, and there must be because Ford and Toyota are two of the most conservative and pragmatic car brands in the local market, so both brands clearly believe that the US segment is a growing market.
Of course the success of the Chevrolet and Ram models – which started at over $80,000 and went over $160,000 – shows that demand for these US giants is high in Australia. In the first eight months of 2022 Ram has sold 3550 vehicles, divided into 1500, 2500 and 3500 models. General Motors Specialty Vehicles (GMSV) lagged but still managed to find a buyer for the more than 1400 Silverados.
Read more about America’s big trucks
So there is no denying that there are a large number of Australians who want to buy this type of vehicle. And we live in a capitalist democracy, so I’m not going to argue that people shouldn’t buy a certain type of vehicle – as long as it complies with all the relevant road rules.
But what I would question is the purpose and appropriateness of the track in Australia, because with more to come it has the potential to have a major impact on Australia’s roads and infrastructure.
Why? Because Australia was simply not designed for this kind of route, while the US. Much of the US and its infrastructure have been specifically designed to accommodate this behemoth – from lane sizes to car parks, and even drive-through lanes at fast food restaurants.
The reality is this US model completely blurs the line between what we think of as a ‘utility’ vehicle and a small truck. No one can call the Toyota HiLux a small vehicle, measuring 5265mm long and 1800mm wide. But the Tundra would dwarf it because it’s 5,933mm long and 2037mm wide – that’s an additional 668mm in length and over 200mm in width.
The Tundra is not alone, the F-150 is longer than 670mm and almost 200mm wider than the already impressive Ranger.
I speak from personal experience in understanding the practical differences between the two countries, and the way this equipment fits into the environment. I have family in the US, living far away in the mid-west trucking region where it seems that every driveway has an F-150, Silverado, Ram or Tundra.
The roads there are mostly gridded, without the kind of natural topography that makes up Australia’s roads. This usually leads to a wider track that better accommodates vehicles that tend to be 200mm wider than our more common dual cabs, such as the HiLux and Ranger.
Parking is one of the areas where Australia and the US are very different. While Australian shopping malls generally use multi-storey parking garages with narrow corners and ramps, in the US (especially outside the major cities) stores tend to be self-contained and surrounded by large single-story parking lots. This means they don’t have to worry about the height of these large utes and can often provide physically larger spaces to accommodate these wider and longer vehicles.
Not that driving a Chevy or Ram is impossible in Australia, actually both have their own charms and appeals, but even experienced drivers take some time to get used to and get comfortable with their extra thickness.
In the end the message to potential buyers is this – is the Silverado, Ram, F-150 or Tundra really the right fit for your life? Both in a practical sense (will it fit in your garage?) and in a holistic sense (do you really need a robust full-size US pick-up if you don’t plan on towing or carrying loads in the back?).
If you need to tow more than 3500kg on a regular basis, then of course one of these US trucks makes a lot of sense. But if you’re getting one of less tangible quality, then you might want to pause and think about the realities of living with such a big vehicle in a country that doesn’t yet have the road infrastructure shaped by them.
After all, this is not the first time Australia has been unable to meet the demand for US-sized vehicles.
In the mid-1990s Holden tried to sell the Chevrolet Suburban to Australia and found that its target audience was television companies using it as an outside broadcast vehicle. While in the US, the Suburban is used by parents to take their kids to soccer practice or head to the local Walmart for shopping. They were able to do that because roads, parking lots, and other infrastructure were designed to accommodate such a large machine.
Ultimately this is a ‘horse for the course’ scenario. No doubt many buyers need the extra practical benefits these utes offer, but I don’t really believe Australia is up for a full-scale invasion of US pickups.