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You might think that the United States is the king of pickup trucks. But what if I told you there’s a good chance we’re doing it wrong? Australian utility pickup beds (also called ute beds) are truck beds with fold flat sides, often made of aluminum. They are versatile and lightweight and may just make for the ultimate truck.

What is a pickup truck utility bed?

A utility pickup bed is common in other parts of the world, namely Australia, where it is often called a “ute” bed. It is a box bed with fold-down sides, which can make it into a flatbed truck. It usually has a “back rack” style headboard to protect the cab.

This is a Toyota Land Cruiser truck with an aluminum aftermarket Australian-style utility or ute bed made by NorWeld.
Land Cruiser with Ute bed | NorWeld

In the United States’ defense, we build something very much like an Australian utility bed for heavy-duty pickups with dump beds. The result is sort of a light-duty dump truck that can be transformed into a flatbed.

The beauty of the utility bed is that it is often made of aluminum and thus light enough for a half-ton truck. Though it is heavy-duty truck technology, it can make a light-duty truck much more versatile–according to UTE Ltd.

Confusingly, Australian slang for any pickup truck is “ute.” But this phrase is used even more often to describe light-duty, car-derived unibody compact trucks. Think of a modern version of the Chevrolet El Camino. Yes, Chevrolet still builds El Camino like trucks in Australia, branded as Holdens, and they are glorious. But foreign market pickup trucks are another article altogether.

What is a pickup truck utility bed for?

A classic Australian-style “ute” or utility bed for a pickup truck is for everything. It can transform from a flatbed into a roomy box bed. So you could strap down a load of lumber too large for a regular pickup. But you could also fold up the sides and use it to haul a load of gravel or dirt.

A pickup truck with a custom Ute pickup truck bed.
Truck with ute bed | NorWeld

The American-style pickup bed certainly looks attractive. It also might be a bit more aerodynamic than an Australian-style utility bed. But who buys pickup trucks for aerodynamics?

Many automakers are attempting to make the American-style pickup bed more versatile. Improvements include the “Ram Box” with locking toolboxes built into the walls of a Ram pickup’s bed. GMC is on the cutting edge of steps, in-bed lighting, and tie-down hooks to make its beds “professional grade.” Honda even offers an in-bed trunk in its Ridgeline that can double as a cooler. But try to load 50 light-but-bulky hay bales into any of these pickup truck beds and you’ll be wishing for a utility bed that can fold into a flatbed.

Can you buy an Australian-style ‘ute’ bed in the U.S.?

There are custom pickup truck bed companies in the U.S. that will build you anything you want. But an Australian-style ‘ute’ bed built out of aluminum can cost $5k-$10k. This is a bit steep when a work truck costs just over $30k.

A versatile utility or Ute pickup truck bed on a truck parked in a lot, trees visible in the background.
Truck with ute bed | NorWeld

If more folks ordered utility beds, there might be a stronger used market driving the prices down. An aluminum bed would resist rust even when the rest of a pickup truck is shot. But for now, we just have to ogle pictures of Australian trucks with ute beds and hope someone starts building affordable versions here.

Next, see the best foreign market SUVs that you can’t buy in the U.S. or see one of the Ute trays engineered for overlanding that you can buy in the U.S. in the video below: