When GM product czar Bob Lutz signed off poste haste on the Pontiac GTO project more than one year ago, he also got to drive the regular Utility, and emerged grinning. He pronounced it ideal for Chevrolet — though they didn’t know that then. The tray-back Ute could also find a niche in any potential export order.
Holden’s associated high-performance constructor Holden Special Vehicles, an arm’s-length tuning house that builds super-fast Commodore, Monaro and Ute variants also has its own One Tonner, the Maloo.
2004 Holden HSV Maloo
2004 Holden HSV MalooEnlarge Photo
Holden also showed its pre-production Ute-derived Panel Van. Essentially a fibreglass canopy atop a regular ute, this is powered by a 235-kW version of the Corvette’s 5.7-liter Gen III.
Jumping into the car-derived Ute market for the first time was Toyota Australia, fronting the show with perhaps the most significant display of its in-house design and build talents in the shape of the X-Runner (pronounced Cross-runner).
2004 Toyota X-Runner
2004 Toyota X-RunnerEnlarge Photo
Toyota is flexing its styling muscles to try to win approval for the Avalon redesign because it doesn’t want the U.S. model (no offence, guys).
The X-Runner Ute Toyota dreamed up is built on a 150mm stretch of the Avalon platform and fitted with the all-wheel drive running gear of the defunct Lexus RX300. It also boasts a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6, a production version of which Toyota executives would like to bolt under the hood of a special sporty Camry, soonest.
The rear tray sits on a specially constructed space frame engineered in Melbourne, while the Dunlop tires have a laser-cut tread pattern in the form of the Toyota logo.
The swing out tailgate contains a cubby for helmets, while side lockers can hold biker Lycra and the load bed swallows two mountain bikes.
X-Runner is an expression of the enthusiasm of the Toyota team and its desire to tap into the unique Aussie lifestyle.
Toyota Australia presently builds global market products (Camry, Avalon) for domestic and export markets but TMCA president, Ken Asano said it was important for Toyota Australia to “undertake projects that enhance our capabilities and our ability to be innovative”.
That’s Toyota speak for “Holden and Ford are heading into the SUV market and we don’t want to be left behind”.
Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd, manufacturers of the American market Diamante sedan (Magna in Australia) displayed its just launched all-wheel drive variant at the show.
Engineered in Australia, the Magna AWD is a canny local re-engineering job (the Japan-sourced AWD kit wouldn’t easily mate to the 3.5-liter V-6). MMAL says it has no plans to engineer the AWD car for left-hand drive applications, now.
A substantial sheetmetal facelift model, bearing the new ‘face’ of Mitsubishi as prescribed by chief designer Olivier Boulay in Tokyo, will be revealed mid-year, before debuting as a 2004 model in the U.S. this fall.
Among the importers strutting their stuff at Melbourne, GM Daewoo introduced the Lacetti (Nubira replacement) and Kalos (Lanos replacement) as well as a concept car dubbed Flex. GM Daewoo in Australia has a 50 percent market collapse to reverse starting with the launch of the new product, but thanks to substantial Holden ownership and executive involvement, GM Daewoo in Australia should be able to springboard to some short-term success.