Rural buyers look beyond farm-only vehicles, reports Jacqui Madelin
The days when Mystery Creek Fieldays appealed only to farmers are long gone. The Southern Hemisphere's biggest agricultural show now also draws sightseers from urban areas and plus those involved with peripheral industries.
The type of cars bought at Fieldays reflects the wider range of talents displayed by models once targeted entirely at the farm.
The car-based Falcon and Commodore utes we associate with rural blokes were always a niche market, selling 1564 in 2004 but by last year dropping to 254. But the 4x4 utes - such as Ford's Ranger and the Mazda BT-50 - have pushed ahead. In 2004, sales sat around 6700 but last year had grown to 8492.
Stu Tervit, dealer principal at Rosetown Holden in Te Awamutu, says car-based utes made more sense in the pre-1994 bench-seat days when they could carry three passengers.
Airbag requirements cut that to two, and now, "buyers like the new Holden Colorado because it works as a car as well as a ute".
Hamiltonian Jeremy is eyeing a Colorado because the Commodore ute won't fit kids in the back. He liked the low load height, but on a country job "they won't go down half the driveways as they're too low, and you can't tow much". Holden at least has a Commodore ute in the front of its display area. But at Ford the highlight is a Focus ST hatchback.
Ford NZ managing director Neale Hill says Fieldays is an opportunity to showcase the range rather than sell vehicles. Visitors to the Ford tent have moved beyond the traditional farmer, which is why Hill has Focus ST on display, fresh from Beijing.
Volkswagen has also aimed at a broad customer base. National sales manager Rodney Gillard says half the cars sold on day one were Amarok utes, but half were passenger cars - including Golf and Polo hatches.
Gillard says Amarok ute buyers question the tow rating but most are after good overall cost of ownership.
Hein Kroef and his wife, Dorothy, are admiring an Amarok.
In 1965 they courted in a VW Beetle but now own a Falcon ute as Hein spends most of his working life on the road. Dorothy runs a beef stud at Mangatawhiri.
Their son has just bought a Ford.
"I asked him why not an Amarok," said Hein.
"He'll buy Falcon utes while they're still available, then go Amarok for its road-feel."
He is one of a dying breed of hard-core buyers still hooked on the car-based utilities, as is John, with a Tauranga lifestyle block to run. He doesn't like diesel, and at 2m tall likes Falcon's leg-room. He says: "They're brilliant. They handle well and carry everything I need".
As Falcon and Commodore car-lines fade into a future dominated by smaller cars, he may have to try the new breed of truck, with its increasingly car-like road manners achieved without compromising practicality on the farm.