With next to no overseas travel, adventure-seeking Australians are spending big on making their 4x4s fit for off-road purpose.
A cross the generations, Australians have always had vehicles as playthings. Sure, they’re used for daily transport and work too, but there’s always been a segment of the market catering to lifestyle pursuits. Sports cars and V8 muscle – either Aussie made or imported – have for decades been the go-to, but there’s been a marked shift of late towards tough, capable and spectacular-looking fourwheel-drives.
Clogged roads, speed cameras and endless rules have sucked the fun out of sports car ownership, eradicating the sense of freedom they once brought. Filling the vacuum are 4x4s. You can tow a caravan on a lap of Australia, haul an off-road camper trailer deep into the bush, tackle extreme isolated unsealed tracks or throw surfboards and tents in the back and venture up a beach with uninterrupted ocean views. P-Platers these days? They don’t want a Falcon GT, open-top Lotus or even a hot hatch. Most covet a Ford Ranger or Toyota HiLux with lift kit and massive bull bar.
If you live in the city the craze might not be as obvious, but for five years now Australia’s best-selling vehicle has been the Toyota HiLux pickup. And it’s not the work ones proving most popular. It’s the feature-packed SR5 dual-cab model, while there are numerous special editions dripping in off-road specific gear. Then there’s the booming aftermarket. Come to a place like the Queensland holiday spot of Noosa and it’s a gateway for 4WD fun, and for those in the trade, business is booming.
“People aren’t travelling overseas; they’re having staycations and doing up their 4WDs to take caravans or to go off-roading,” said Nathan Winter, owner of Noosa Exhaust and Mechanical. The business has been established for more than 25 years, with Nathan taking over a decade ago. In that time the work has moved in a specialist off-road direction, reflecting Nathan’s passion for the pursuit – and the captive market. Out front, and serving as exceptional advertising for his expertise, is his tricked-up Toyota LandCruiser 79 Series. It looks immaculate enough to win a Show ‘n Shine award, but hardcore enough to tackle the Canning Stock Route.
Nathan expanded his business after taking it over, relocating to a former bus depot, ensuring there’s mighty space to work. It covers 2100sq m in total, with 425sq m of that undercover. There are up to 40 vehicles on site at any one time, while inside are six hoists and room for two other vehicles on the floor. At the moment there are four mechanics on the tools, but “it’s so busy we’d like two more mechanics,” Nathan said. That and an accessory fitter to carry out all the tow bar, bull bar, snorkel and roof bar fitment side of things.
“The business has changed a lot,” said Nathan. “We’ve moved away from custom exhausts and now do aftermarket bolt-ons instead. We’re concentrating more on the mechanical side, particularly the builds, as it’s such a huge thing now.” Lift kits are the most popular modification, while the firm does GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) upgrades, especially for those buying brand new 4x4s. “Once you add a canopy, drawers, bigger fuel tank, water tanks and the like, the weight becomes huge,” Nathan said. “If you do the GVM upgrade pre-rego you can change it over easily.”
New rims and tyres are big business, as are dual battery systems, oil catch cans, lighting setups, rescue and recovery, Rhino roof racks and Airbag Man air suspension. It’s also something of a one-stop shop, performing normal mechanical work and logbook servicing, plus engine rebuilds, ECU remaps and gearbox replacement.
The varied work is hardly surprising. The region’s perfectly placed to access beach driving at Noosa’s North Shore, epic sand adventures on Fraser Island and two hours away is Landcruiser Mountain Park – a 10,000-acre wilderness camping and 4WD park with over 200km of tracks. “There’s a huge 4WD community here, including the young kids who’ve bought their first 4×4, spend the weekend driving up the beach, do some damage and call us on Monday morning,” Nathan said. “They’ll do a clutch or bend something important. Once they learn about the cost of repair, they soon see what you should and shouldn’t do on the sand.”
While city slicker 4x4s may just be used for the school run or shopping trips, people in this part of the world properly use them. “You could build your own beach in our workshop from the amount of sand that comes out of them,” Nathan said. “I’ll pull off the bash plates and half of Fraser Island is in there.”
Nathan explains the interesting demographics of his customers. The hardcore LandCruiser 79 Series is for your 30-to-50-somethings, the over 50s go for a LandCruiser 200 Series to tow their caravans, while the youngsters will modify anything they can get their hands on – new or old, high value or cheap bush bashers. Constant across all, they want aftermarket goodies for their recreational pursuits, and have the dollars to pay for it.
Interestingly, customers seem to prefer using an expert specialist more than main dealers. “Some dealers will send customers straight to us as there’s a lot of stuff they can’t do or won’t do,” explained Nathan. “And, quite frankly, people trust our expertise more than a dealership. We do lots of quotes for people so they can include it in their finance package.”
With the Covid-19 crisis dragging on, Nathan thinks people seeking full 4×4 builds and equipment will only increase. More Sydney and Melbourne residents are relocating to less crowded regions such as Noosa, and are ready to enjoy an adventurous lifestyle with their vehicles. Demand for certain things – bull bars, offroad tyres and rims especially – mean the wait time is often lengthy. It means the phone is constantly ringing here, and for any business, that’s a very good sign indeed.
For more info call (07) 5449 7811 or visit www.noosaexhaust.com.au