The 2021 GWM Cannon Baja Snake, a performance variant of the Chinese brand's Cannon pickup (which is already sold here in Australia as the GWM Ute). Image: Motor Authority

China’s Ute Manufacturers Are Beating Australia At Its Own Game

'Red Raptors'.

Australians love utes.

In fact, the only thing Australians love more than utes is modifying utes: according to a industry report produced for the Parliament of Queensland last year, the Australian 4×4 parts and accessory business is worth over $6 billion annually – and is mostly driven by the popularity of 4×4 dual-cab utes. From bullbars to lift kits, Aussies love turning their humble utes into off-road monsters.

In recent years, ute manufacturers have woken up to Australia’s love of modifying utes, and have started to offer tricked-out performance versions of their most popular models, such as the Ford Ranger Raptor, Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain, Toyota Hilux Rugged X and Volkswagen Amarok W580 just to name a few. With boatloads of features and impressive performance credentials – both on and off the road – these performance utes are hot property.

But they’re also quite expensive, with sticker prices in the $70-80,000 range… And with Australia still in the grips of a new car shortage, you best believe dealers aren’t going to cut you a deal any time soon.

But that might change, if China decides to start offering its impressive collection of performance utes Down Under.

The Jiangling Yuhu 7 Fishing. As the name implies, this ute is tailed specifically to anglers and campers – something we can imagine many Aussies would find very appealing. Image: Carsguide

Chinese cars have long been viewed with suspicion by Aussies – and not without reason. Chinese cars used to be plagued by poor build quality, weak engine options and worrying safety credentials. Utes have traditionally been some of the first and only Chinese vehicles launched on the Australian market, such as the Great Wall V240, LDV T60 and JMC Vigus, but they’ve never been that popular, despite their bargain-basement prices. It must also be said that quality issues aside, there’s been a degree of prejudice underpinning some Aussies’ reluctance to buy a Chinese car/ute.

But things are different in 2021. The success of Chinese passenger car marques like MG has proven that not only is China more than capable of making world-class vehicles, but also (or perhaps therefore) Aussies are ready to take Chinese cars seriously.

At the same time, China’s ute makers have also taken note of the trend towards performance utes and are launching a number of seriously cool vehicles domestically – which we can only imagine they’re also planning to bring to Australia.

A Carsguide report from the recent 2021 Chengdu Motor Show suggests that “China has discovered a new passion for utes of all shapes and sizes, with the country now responsible for pushing the dual-cab boundaries further than even Australia or the USA.”

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Highlights from the ute-packed motor show have included the GWM Baja Snake, which features a super-high ride height, reinforced chassis and twin spare tyres in the bed; the SAIC Niu Mowang, which features an integrated rollcage, roof-mounted LED light bar, winches and tow hooks as standard; and the Jiangling Yuhu 7 Fishing, which features tanks to put your live fish as well as a built-in tent, fridge, awning, stove and even roof-mounted solar panels.

The GWM Cannon EV, an all-electric version of the Cannon ute. There’s a burgeoning market for electric utes in Australia… Image: GWM

Also at the show was an electric version of the aforementioned Cannon pickup. Of course, that’s the next big frontier in the ute space: electric utes. As fuel prices continue to rise and Australia’s electric vehicle charging network continues to grow, demand for these vehicles will only continue to rise.

It’s a challenge that Australia’s current crop of ute manufacturers has no answer to, either. There’s no EV Hilux. Ford does has the F-150 Lightning… But the brand recently confirmed they won’t be selling it here. American brands like Rivian and Tesla have plans to bring their EV utes Down Under –  but if GWM or another Chinese brand could beat them to the punch, they could corner the market (as nascent as it is).

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The real takeaway is this: China’s ute makers are not only in step with what ute buyers want, but they’re actually ahead of the curve. The Chinese can trick out utes just as well as Australians can… If not better. China is finally making utes that Aussies will want to buy, and it’s only a matter of time before these vehicles make their way Down Under.

When that happens, it’ll radically shake up the automotive landscape – and we’re keen to see that happen. Toyota, Ford… You best be watching.

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