Mark Smith is the father of Smyth Performance. In recent years his company has gone from focusing on creating motorcycles and mid-engine sports cars to creating “Utes.” That is where his company hit the jackpot.
What is a Ute?
Utes are a category of vehicles that have come and gone in the United States. They are a car platform with a pickup truck bed. Ford created the first one back in 1957, called the Ranchero. However, the manufacturer was not left alone in the field for too long. In fact, Chevrolet, Dodge, Plymouth, Subaru, and Volkswagen would also build Utes before the entire category would eventually disappear.
Although the Utes have remained popular in Australia, there haven’t been any new ones for the United States market since the death of the Subaru Baja in 2006. Mark Smith has seen this empty niche, gauged the waters for demand, and has begun offering Ute conversion kits to fill that niche.
Ute Kits are Born
The way Mr. Smith sees it, he’s offering people an alternative to what has become a growing problem. He says it’s not uncommon for people to throw away their vehicle after 3 or 4 years and jump into another new and increasingly more expensive vehicle. That leaves the used car market with a lot of affordable used platforms that can be repaired with little cost or effort. Why not take those same aged vehicles and add a bit inexpensive excitement to them?
The first Ute kit Smyth Performance offered was based on the VW Jetta. Slowly thereafter, other offerings launched. They have been so popular that the company has had to move to more extensive production facilities to handle the demand. The kit offerings now also include the Dodge Charger, Audi A4/S4, Subaru Impreza, and the VW Beetle.
A New Kit Donor Vehicle Explored
Today Mr. Smith is experimenting with another Ute idea. He purchased a 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee (WJ generation, 1999-2004). The Jeep is currently being stripped down to examine its rigidity and to determine if it is a worthy candidate for his company’s next kit offering. He hasn’t made a decision or even completed a prototype yet, but he seems excited in his Facebook live videos that explore the Grand Cherokee as a possibility. Any decision could still be six weeks out.
Used Grand Cherokees are currently plentiful and have a lot of aftermarket support. So, to find a donor vehicle, throw in a few weekends of sweat equity, and give the kit a paint job would be a relatively easy endeavor for many handy shade tree mechanics. If the Jeep Ute kit does end up being green-lighted for production, the result for those shade tree mechanics would be a showstopper, just like the rest of Smyth Performance offerings have been.
In the past, Ute enthusiasts have had to comb over listings of decades-old El Caminos, Caballeros, Rancheros, Rampages, Bajas, and Brats. Now, more modern vehicles can are available for a Ute conversion kit as a basis. This means more readily available suspension and engine parts along with more current safety systems make these kits more appealing to the project seeker.
Smyth Performance currently has kits priced under $3,500. Should the Grand Cherokee be approved, donor vehicles are available on eBay and the Facebook Marketplace from a few hundred dollars up to roughly $4,000. The low cost of entry for the donor, along with still readily available parts makes these kits valid options for not just the do-it-yourselfer, but also for businesses that want to have shop trucks that catch attention.
It is easier on the company wallet to spend under $10,000 to complete one of the Smyth Performance kits than it would be to spend $30,000 for a new truck that looks like every other truck already on the road.
Keep an eye on Smyth Performance in the coming weeks to see if the Jeep Grand Cherokee is added to the Ute portfolio options.