The V8 Utes Series’ mooted ‘Ute of The Future’ could make its first public appearance in 12 months time ahead of a year-long testing program and 2015 introduction.
Like its V8 Supercars big brother, the category is responding to the changing nature of the Australian automotive marketplace by embarking on a new technical direction which will see more traditional, foreign-built utes replace their Australian sedan-based counterparts.
The existing pair of manufacturers, Ford and Holden, and their Ranger and Colordao models respectively, could be joined by other marques such as Nissan with its Navara, and Toyota with its Hilux.
Category administrator Craig Denyer says that plans are ongoing, and he hopes that at least two prototypes will make their first public appearance at the final event of the 2013 season at Sydney Olympic Park.
“If you look at the market relevance of the SUV today, there’s one in three sold,” Denyer told Speedcafe.com.
“The fact that the existing Ute market has fallen away in the last two or three years, and the market has changed, and the relevance of Ford and Holden today are significantly less than when we started the series 12 years ago, means that the category needs to evolve.
“It needs to be relevant to the fan base moving forward, and I think we’re being driven down that path. We’re also being encouraged by a number of manufacturers to go down that path, including Ford and Holden.
“Our plan, at this stage, is to have two prototypes ready for the end of 2013, which will give us a full year to conduct extensive testing ahead of a 2015 race debut.”
Denyer first discussed the category’s technical future in the second half of last year, and the new generation utes will have been in the planning for a considerable period.
“We started the process back in 2010, so by the time I guess we get to the point where we start racing them, it’s been a five-year planning process,” he said.
“All of our competitors are across what the plans are, and we always said that we’re going to take it step-by-step.
“The key thing is to not lose what the category’s built up in 10 years of very, very good competition, and more importantly, in terms of the cost to the competitor to stay in the current pool of what it costs to compete on a yearly basis.”
While the changes are significant, the category will retain its heavily production-based orientation. The current incarnation of utes utilise modified production engines, with a limited number of high-performance components substituted for the stock parts.
“We want to stay production-based in terms of the engine, probably the transmission, probably the drivetrain,” said Denyer.
“They’ll look like the production version of whatever car, whether it’s a Ranger, Colorado, Hilux, Nissan Navara, or any of the others.
“They’ll certainly have relevance in terms of the production market, but where we can we’d certainly like to carry over as many of the production components as we can, so long as it’s cost-effective for the competitor.”
The FG Falcon’s full introduction to the category this year had been delayed due to issues in sourcing a suitable V8 engine, after Ford discontinued the XR8 model.
The 2013 Auto One V8 Ute Series commences at Adelaide on February 28 to March 3.