American pickup trucks are more and more common on our roads, but why are they so popular?

Australia’s COVID RV boom is fueling demand for large American pickups that can tow heavy trailers, but industry experts are warning drivers to do thorough research before buying.

For Australians driving around the continent during the pandemic, American trucks like RAM, Chevrolet, and Ford F-150 are roomy, comfortable, and some can tow up to 4.5 tonnes – if you can afford the price.

Queenslander Simon Maloney – a longtime Toyota man – drove 36,000 kilometers on a tour of Australia. He doesn’t regret buying a RAM 1500 last year for a country tour during COVID.

Speaking to ABC Radio Brisbane of Carnarvon, Western Australia, Mr Maloney said he did months of research before spending his money on a RAM.

“It’s been all of Victoria High Country; it’s been through Tasmania,” Mr. Maloney said.

“We rode 10,000 km in Tasmania, it’s not that big. We rode around, over, through, everywhere.

While planning his tour of Australia, Simon Maloney opted for a RAM 1500 to tow a caravan.(Provided: Simon Maloney)

Expensive exercise

Right out of the shop floor, an American pickup truck can cost over $ 100,000 before any modification, and prices have only gone up when supplies run out.

A new Toyota HiLux can cost up to $ 65,000, while a new LandCruiser can cost between $ 80,000 and almost $ 200,000 depending on the model.

Used vehicles and four-wheel drive are also in high demand, as people are looking for cars that are already modified for travel.

Many players in the four-wheel drive industry are benefiting from the boom even as supply delays mean customers wait months for new trucks to arrive from overseas.

One of the first companies to export American pickup trucks to Australia, Maracoonda Automotive of Moreton Bay specializes in converting these trucks to right-hand drive.

A shell of a large ute in a mechanical workshop
The new vehicles are dismantled and fully reconditioned for right-hand drive.(Provided: Maracoonda Automotives)

Director Ann Anderson said since the start of the pandemic more and more young families looking for a vehicle capable of towing a heavy trailer were calling.

But demand is so high that Maracoonda is now telling new customers to expect a 12-month wait – and when the vehicle arrives, the conversion process can take 380 hours of specialist work.

Safe towing loads

One of the biggest issues, said Ms. Anderson, was the lack of understanding of the complexities of safe and legal towing loads.




The weight of an empty vehicle

Gross vehicle mass (GVM)

The maximum weight a vehicle can weigh, including tare, all accessories such as snorkel and bull bar, and payload

Combined gross mass (GCM)

The maximum weight of the combined vehicle and trailer


The maximum load the vehicle can carry, including passengers and baggage

Most American trucks are designed to tow between 2.5 tonnes and 4.5 tonnes, but Ms Anderson said inexperienced drivers could find themselves in difficulty if they did not correctly calculate the weight of an equipped caravan, equipment and passengers.

“When they’re looking to tow something, there’s another weight called the GCM and that’s the combined gross mass,” she said.

“So that’s the weight of the truck, and the payload with all that goodies, and the trailer.

Drivers could accidentally find themselves canceling their insurance, exceeding general driver’s license weight restrictions, or experiencing other legal disputes if they do not accurately calculate their towing weight.

A woman working on an air conditioning unit in a mechanical workshop
Maracoonda Automotives, in Moreton Bay, manufactures everything for the right-hand drive conversion, including new air conditioning units.(Supplied: Maracoonda Automobile)

A booming industry

In Cairns, the ute Norweld tray manufacturing company is in full swing.

Business development director Mark Law said that in the first two weeks of October he received 22 requests for bed trays from US trucks.

Mr Law said the entire four-wheel drive industry has exploded during the pandemic.

To meet demand, Norweld expanded interstate, recruited more staff, and now exports trays and awnings to the United States.

A large equipped hut in front of a mechanical workshop
The Cairns, Norweld-based manufacturer makes custom awnings and trays for American pickup trucks and other utility vehicles.(Provided: Norweld)

“I think American trucks are going to continue to grow, just because of the supply they have across different vehicles,” Law said.

“On the other side of the Rams, the [GMC Denali], the Silverado, the Ford F trucks, they are all very efficient and comfortable vehicles and they all have different strengths.

In Brisbane, auto electrician Quentin Gill spotted a gap in the market.

Taking a risk, Mr. Gill decided to specialize in custom modifications for American trucks, buying his own RAM as a family car and showcasing his company.

“There is a huge market for what I do in LandCruisers, but all of Tom’s, Dick’s and Harry’s are doing it,” Mr. Gill said.

“People have to do a lot of research”

But the sheer size of the American truck has its drawbacks.

An American pickup like a RAM 1500 can be 2.4 meters wide, 5.8 meters long and 1.9 meters high.

In contrast, a typical HiLux may be only 1.8 meters wide, 5.3 meters long and 1.8 meters high.

Monash University crash research expert Stuart Newstead said while the pickup looked like a ute, its weight and size were closer to a truck.

A graphic showing the different sizes of American Uutes and Pickup Trucks
American trucks are bigger, wider and longer than normal trucks.(ABC News: Lewi Hirvela)

“These vehicles are incredibly long,” he said.

“Some hit six meters long, that don’t even fit into a parking lot, and they’re well over two meters wide.”

Dr Newstead said pickup trucks are classified as commercial vehicles and as such are subject to different safety regulations.

One problem, he said, was that there was no single port of call for advice and information on correctly calculating the total weight of a heavy truck and trailer.

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