The coupé utility automobile body style, also known colloquially as the ute in Australia and New Zealand, combines a two-door "coupé" cabin with an integral cargo bed behind the cabin—using a light-duty passenger vehicle-derived platform.
A coupé utility has a body style with coupé lines, but like a truck, it has an integral open cargo area at the rear. While most modern day coupé utilities are built using a monocoque constitution, historical models typically used a light-duty body-on-frame construction, like the heavy-duty body-on-frame construction used by pickup trucks. As light-duty body-on-frame coupé utilities are automobile-based, they can thus be differentiated from their heavy-duty (pickup truck) counterparts.
Ford Australia was the first company to produce a coupe utility. This was the result of a 1932 letter from the wife of a farmer in Victoria, Australia asking for “a vehicle to go to church in on a Sunday and which can carry our pigs to market on Mondays”. Ford designer Lew Bandt developed a suitable solution and the first coupe utility model was released in 1934. Bandt went on to manage Ford’s Advanced Design Department, being responsible for the body engineering of the XP, XT, XW and XA series Ford Falcon utilities. General Motors’ Australian subsidiary Holden also produced a Chevrolet coupe utility in 1935 but the body style did not appear on the American market until the release of the 1957 Ford Ranchero.
Both the coupé utility and the similar open topped roadster utility continued in production but the improving economy of the mid to late 1930s and the desire for improved comfort saw coupe utility sales climb at the expense of the roadster utility until, by 1939, the latter was all but a fading memory.
By the 1980s in North America, the coupé utility began to fall out of favor again with the demise of the Ranchero after 1979, the Volkswagen Caddy, Dodge Rampage/Plymouth Scamp and of the Chevrolet El Camino by 1987.
Subaru offered the Brat in the early 1980s, and the Baja from 2003-2006. General Motors considered bringing a rebadged Holden Ute to the United States in the form of the Pontiac G8 ST in 2009, but the global recession (and GM's ultimate bankruptcy) caused them to cancel it.
The pickup truck, on the other hand, started its life a little earlier and is defined by its separate, removable, well-type 'pickup bed'. This pickup bed does not contact the cabin part of the vehicle, while the ute bed is an integral part of the whole body. Both the coupé utility and closed cab pickup designs migrated to light truck chassis & these are correctly known respectively as Utility trucks & Pickup trucks. Eventually the pickup design found a natural home on the smaller truck chassis while the ute became entrenched as a passenger car derivative, although exceptions do apply.
To this day, Australia makes the world's fastest Utes.
Australians define a "ute" as any commercial vehicle that has an open cargo carrying space, but requires only a passenger car license to drive. This includes coupé utilities, pickup trucks and traybacks (flatbed pickup trucks). An example of the broadness of this definition is that anything from a Ford F250 XL to a Proton Jumbuck can be called a ute.
In North America, the major automobile and truck manufacturers built them from the 1930s to the 1980s. They were very popular in the early years with florists as a way to transport flowers and potted plants. Examples include the Studebaker Coupe Express, or the 1941 Chevrolet Coupe Pickup. A variation of the coupe pickup became the very specialized flower car that was used by funeral homes as an attendant vehicle to the hearse as part of funeral processions. Flower cars were custom-manufactured by several aftermarket coachbuilders by modifying a standard-production sedan, station wagon, or carryall (aka "suburban") in the same manner that ambulances, hearses, crummies, fire command cars, and fire apparatus were/are manufactured.
The Ford Ranchero was produced between 1957 and 1979 based on full-size, compact and intermediate automobiles by the Ford Motor Company for the North American market. Variations based on the original 1960 US Falcon for home markets in Argentina and South Africa were produced through the late 1980s. Though Ford car/truck combinations had been around since 1934 when Ford Australia's lone designer Lew Bandt penned the world's first coupe utility, thereby spawning the popularity of the so-called "ute" in that country, the Ranchero was the first postwar American vehicle of its type from the factory.
The Chevrolet El Camino was produced by the Chevrolet division of General Motors from 1959 through 1960, with production resuming in 1964 and continuing through 1987. El Camino was produced in response to the success of its rival Ford Ranchero. El Camino was based on corresponding Chevrolet car lines, though in North America, the vehicle is classified as a truck and titled as such. It had a variant called the GMC Sprint and later named the GMC Caballero from 1978-1987. In Mexico, it was also sold as the Chevrolet Conquistador.
Since readers in many parts of the world may be unfamiliar with the formal term "Coupé Utility", here follows some examples of vehicles using this body style.
Notable coupé utilities of the past
- 1959–1960, 1964-1987 Chevrolet El Camino
- 1965–1979 Chrysler Valiant utility
- 1982–1984 Dodge Rampage
- 1934 Ford Coupe Utility (Australia)
- 1961–1999 Ford Falcon utility
- 1952–1958 Ford Mainline utility
- 1957–1979 Ford Ranchero
- 1971–1987 GMC Sprint/Caballero
- 1951–1968 Holden utility
- 1968–1984 Holden Belmont/Kingswood utility
- 1937-1939 Studebaker Coupe Express
- 1978–1993 Subaru BRAT
- 1962-1971 Toyopet/Toyota Crown
- 1979-1984 Volkswagen Caddy
Modern coupé utilities
Modern vehicles of the Coupe utility style include, among others:
- 1990–present Holden Commodore/Ute
- 1960-present Ford Falcon Ute
- 2002–present Proton Arena/Jumbuck
- 1996-present Fiat Strada
- 1990-present Volkswagen Saveiro
- 2003-present Chevrolet Montana/Opel Corsa Utility
- 1970s AMC Cowboy: Hornet-based coupe ute that never made it to production. Prototypes exist in private ownership.
- 2008 Pontiac G8 ST: Essentially a rebadged Holden Ute, itself based on the Holden Commodore (which also served as the basis of the standard G8). At least one prototype was built, but GM decided not to move it to production because of the current global recession. It wasn't long after this that the Pontiac brand was discontinued, followed by the company's Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
- 2011 BMW M3 Pickup: Based on the E93 Convertible, this unique 3 Series, featuring a structured aluminum pickup bed and removable targa roof, was created by BMW's M high-performance division as a one-off workshop transport vehicle for use within the company.
Disputed coupé utilities
The following vehicles share qualities of both small pickups and coupe utilities. Some have bodies like a pickup, but are built on a car chassis and/or based on an existing passenger car. Others look like coupe utilities, but are actually based on truck chassis. They are considered coupe utilities by some, and not by others. They are listed here along with a brief explanation of their respected disputes.
- Chevrolet SSR: the body was like a coupe utility, and it had the performance option of the Corvette's LS2 engine, but it was based on the GMT360 truck chassis, which means it is more of a sport pickup, like the Ford Lightning, Dodge Ram SRT-10, or the Chevy Xtreme.
- Dodge Ram 50/Plymouth Arrow Truck: It is debatable whether this vehicle was a true coupe utility, an early example of a compact pickup, or both. Albeit that it was a rear-wheel drive vehicle like typical pickup trucks, and its body design was more like a compact pickup.
- Ford Bantam: the body style is more along the lines of a small pickup, but it is built on a car chassis.
- Ford Falcon utility (AU–FG): since 1999, the Falcon utility has been fitted with a cargo bed separate from the cabin, yet still retains the Falcon sedan/wagon front-end including cabin. The cargo bed was separated so that both "utility" and "cab chassis" body styles could be utilized. However, like previous models (which are officially coupé utilities), the 1999 onwards model are still derived from the Falcon sedan and wagon range.
- Nissan 1400 LDV: similar to the Bantam, pickup-style body, car chassis.
- Roadster utility
- Who built the first utility - where - when... Retrieved from www.fastlane.com.au on 1 April 2010
- "Holden HSV Maloo R8 is World's Fastest Ute". Worldcarfans.com (2006-07-10). Retrieved on 2011-03-06.
- LaVrinc, Damon (2011-04-01). "420-hp BMW M3 Pickup". Jalopnik.com. Retrieved on 2011-04-10.
- Hawley, Jonathan (2010-05-28). "The Creation of an Aussie Icon". Drive. Fairfax Media. Retrieved on 2010-06-29.
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- According to a Holden press release in 2001, the coupe utility "is based on a sedan equivalent and has a load bed integral with the cabin"[dead link]
- Car Exchange magazine article "Ford V8 Mainline Star", June 1981, pp 76–77.
- Interview with automotive historian Adrian Ryan
- The Good Ole Aussie Ute, Larry O'Toole, ISBN 0-949398-26-8