In a couple of weeks, Suzuki will present the latest generation of their enduring and hard-working Jimny family. As we eagerly await the new arrival, we look at one of the odder twigs on the extended family tree.
The subject’s identity crisis is manifestly obvious. It’s sold as a Suzuki, yet there’s a Maruti badge in the centre of the grille. The Japanese masters were content to sell it to New Zealand farmers as one of their own, but it’s an Indian-built Maruti Gipsy, in 4WD, 1300cc petrol specification, and therefore based on the 1982 SJ410 in all its live-axled, leaf-sprung primitiveness.
None of this may have bothered the target market unduly, but the Farmworker’s other distinction may have been more of a concern. The half-heartedly re-badged Maruti fell so far short of New Zealand crash safety standards that it could not be registered for use on public roads. It was therefore marketed as step-up from an ATV, rather than a mainstream road vehicle.
According to NZ Farm Trader in 2013, the Farmworker was available in four versions comprising the Farmworker Versatile 4×4, from $12,165 + GST, the Farmworker Multi-purpose 4×4 from $13,556 + GST, the Farmworker Wellside 4×4 starting from $14,773 + GST and, the Flatdeck 4×4, from $17,382 + GST. All are two-seaters.
A quick exchange check at 2017 rates suggests the cheapest of these cost around £7000 (€7500) pre-tax.
At which point I have to say my greater interest was the Farmworker’s incontrovertibly non-street legal status. I’ve never thought of New Zealand as a being particularly authoritative or proscriptive nation, but the rules contrast sharply with the UK, where all sorts of agricultural machinery (by a very broad definition) is readily granted a number plate.
I’m fortunate to have access to the knowledge of both a British farmer and a New Zealander. The first readily confirmed that the British laws allow any vehicle – usually old vans, minibuses, and 4x4s – to be reclassified as an “Agricultural Vehicle”. They are then MOT exempt, and have zero rated road tax. Provided they are insured, they can be driven a maximum of 6 miles per week on public highways.
I’ve delved further into the letter of the law and it is complicated to the point that probably nobody understands it or bothers to check. In one clause it’s stated that a vehicle exempted from tax on grounds of being used solely for agriculture or forestry can be driven no more than one mile on the public road between land that is occupied by the same person. Then a 6 mile weekly limit appears. If the superannuated Shogun or Sherpa has a valid MOT, there is no restriction on how often it ventures on to public roads, just how far it travels on these excursions.
The British rules are admirably pragmatic, based on the principle that nothing too bad is likely to happen as a result of the concession.
New Zealand takes the opposite view, driven by a need to reduce an alarming level of road fatalities in rural areas. The real target is the extravagantly modified pick-up trucks favoured by the more robust element of the junior yeomanry, but the little Suzuki is denied a numberplate and Warrant of Fitness through the earnest intentions of the legislators.
The Farmworker went on sale in 2011, and was last listed in August 2016. New Zealand farmers are not yet denied the mild thrills of driving a vehicle forbidden from the public highways by their well-meaning legislators. Mahindra NZ offer a not-for-road-use Thar 2500 CRDe for NZ$19,900 (€12,000) +tax. With 245N/m of torque. Bring it on…