Vehicle and Body Type

6 October 20205 min read

There are numerous types of vehicles and bodies – and not all descriptions are as straightforward as you might expect.

With more than 500 vehicle models collectively sold by more than 60 automotive brands in Australia, the choice can be overwhelming.

There are five main categories of vehicles – cars, SUVs, utes, people movers, and vans. However, there are different vehicle types within those five main categories.

For example, the term “car” customarily refers to sedans, hatchbacks, coupes and convertibles. Confusingly the term “car” is also used to generically describe other vehicle types.


Within the term “car” there are different sizes, such as micro, light, small, medium, large and upper-large, as defined by the industry. These terms are really only used internally, though it can be helpful to understand which category a vehicle fits in.

Within the descriptions of sedan, hatchback, coupe and convertible there are different body styles.

There are three-door and five-door hatchbacks, two-door and four-door coupes, and convertibles with a fabric roof, a folding metal roof, or a removable roof.


The term SUV is an acronym borrowed from the US where it is used to describe a Sport Utility Vehicle.

In the US context, the word utility refers to a vehicle’s usefulness and practicality. In Australia, the term utility refers to a workhorse vehicle with a large tray on the back.

A Sport Utility Vehicle in the US usually refers to a high-riding recreational vehicle with a wagon-style body. A high-riding vehicle is deemed an SUV due to its overall design – and flexibility both as a family car and weekend getaway vehicle.

Australians initially resisted the use of the term SUV, but as the popularity of this vehicle type grew, the description has slowly and gradually been adopted.

SUVs now outsell passenger cars in Australia (as they do in the US) and their popularity shows no sign of slowing as buyers embrace the added practicality and taller view of the road ahead.

Part of the reason we were obliged to adopt the term SUV is because such vehicles were previously described as four-wheel-drives – because power was delivered to all four wheels for improved off-road ability.

However, over time it became apparent an increasing number of buyers wanted the tall driving position, roomy cabin, large cargo area, and rugged appearance of a four-wheel-drive, but didn’t need the heavy duty hardware or want the extra fuel consumption that came with such vehicles.

And so the automotive industry needed to come up with a term to describe large vehicles that looked like four-wheel-drives but in fact were two-wheel-drive. The US term SUV fit the bill and has stuck ever since.

The term SUV has more recently been used to describe high-riding vehicles of all sizes.

Compact or “city-friendly” SUVs are essentially high-riding hatchbacks, often with off-road design cues.

There are now SUVs ranging in small, medium and large sizes and – seemingly – every niche in between.

To add to the confusion, there are now even SUV coupes. The term is used to describe a large SUV with a curved roof and sleek “coupe-like” proportions.

The widespread adoption of the term SUV has enabled four-wheel-drives such as the Toyota LandCruiser and Nissan Patrol to wrestle back their heavy duty identity. However, according to the federal body that categorises vehicle types, even these models are now also listed as SUVs.


The term “ute” or “utility” in the Australian context refers to a workhorse vehicle with a large tray on the back to carry a load.

However, with the recent increase in popularity of full-size US-style utes, Australians are beginning to use the term “pick-up” or “truck” as they are called in North America.

Purists may not approve, but the term pick-up is gradually also becoming a default way to describe utes and utility vehicles in Australia.

Within the ute category, however, there are numerous body styles.

One of the most basic types is a single cab design: a two-door cabin with limited storage space behind its two seats, and a long chassis behind the main body for either a factory-fitted ute tub or a customised tray design.

A space cab or extra cab ute usually refers to a two-door cabin with extra space behind its two seats, and a medium-length chassis behind the main body for either a factory-fitted ute tub or a customised tray design.

A double cab or crew cab ute usually refers to a four-door five-seat cabin and a short chassis behind the main body for either a factory-fitted ute tub or a customised tray design.

As this article was prepared, double cabs were the most popular type of ute sold in Australia and accounted for the top two selling vehicles outright (Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger).


The term people mover is a generic term given to large vans with three rows of seats, usually with enough space to accommodate seven or eight occupants including the driver. However, some larger commercial-vehicle-based people movers can accommodate more occupants.

The term vans refers most commonly to large upright delivery vehicles, often available with a choice of two-seat, three-seat or five-seat designs – and with a choice of short wheelbase or long wheelbase, and low, medium and high roofs for extra storage.

Examples of the most common types of vans include the Toyota Hiace, Hyundai iLoad, Ford Transit, Mitsubishi Express and Renault Trafic.

However the term van is also used to describe car-derived delivery vehicles such as the Volkswagen Caddy and Renault Kangoo. In these examples, the driver compartment is either common with or similar to a small hatchback, but the rear of the vehicle has a van-like body. Able to squeeze into tight spots, these compact vans are popular for city use where parking space can be at a premium.