You can’t talk about hard work without talking about the Kawasaki MULE. And if you’ve spent any amount of time on a farm or construction site, chances are you’ve seen one of these rugged machines in action.
MULE stands for Multi-Use Light Equipment. These diligent, hardworking UTVs have been in production since 1988. Much has changed over the years but the core culture of hard work and convenience has remained the same.
So how did the MULE become such a staple on job sites all over the country? And how did Kawasaki manage to roll out so many game-changing innovations while staying true to their industrial roots?
The origins of the UTV aren’t totally clear, but many credit the MULE with being the very first side-by-side (if you’re not counting the Lockley Wrangler or single-seater Honda Odyssey). And it all started on a cocktail napkin back in 1980.
According to Kawasaki, three employees had one simple concept in mind: “a vehicle with four wheels that could carry two people and heavier loads than an ATV.” They sketched out their vision on a napkin, calling it the Pony Truck and nicknaming it the “four-wheeled three wheeler.”
And the rest, as they say, was history.
Eight years after the initial concept was drawn up, the first Kawasaki MULE hit the market. The MULE 1000 was powered by a liquid-cooled 454cc twin-cylinder engine and featured a rear differential lock feature. Independent front and rear suspension and four all-terrain tires made it perfect for any work site. The MULE was an instant success, especially on farms and ranches.
After releasing the MULE 1000, Kawasaki quickly realized how much of a demand there was for this type of vehicle. As a result, they began developing and releasing even more models in response to workers’ needs. The vision they had for the MULE expanded as models became more capable and versatile.
Two years after the original, the Kawasaki MULE 2010 was born. It was similar to the 1000 in body style but came with selectable two- or four-wheel drive and a Hi/Lo transmission. The engine also got an upgrade, from 454cc to 535cc.
The next year brought three new MULE machines. The 2020, nicknamed the “Tenderfoot” MULE, was designed to be a turf-class vehicle. It had turf tires and easy-to-operate controls, making it more suitable for golf courses and landscaping. It left a smaller footprint than the MULEs that came before it.
The MULE 2030 was similar to the 2020 but had more of an industrial focus. Special fuel and electrical systems were put in place to meet industrial standards of the times. It also had a flat bed and hard-surface tires for driving on pavement. This made it popular in warehouses.
Also released in 1991 was the MULE 500. This compact, personal-sized utility vehicle was small enough to fit in the bed of a pickup truck.
Never one to rest, Kawasaki was back at it again in 1993. This year the world was introduced to the MULE 2510. It had a larger and more powerful liquid-cooled 617cc V-Twin engine and four-wheel drive. A heavy-duty carrying capacity and tilting cargo bed meant it was quickly recognized as top of the line.
The second release of the year, the MULE 2520, featured a quiet-running, liquid-cooled engine in a sound-insulated box. That, coupled with turf tires, gave it a quieter and lighter footprint than most other utility vehicles.
Soon after, in 1995, Kawasaki released the MULE 2500. It had many of the same features as the 2510, aside from having two-wheel drive and being fully automatic.
The compact MULE family grew in 1997 with the addition of the 550 model. This machine boasted a brand-new design, fan-cooled engine, and proven four-wheel suspension. A bench seat made it the very first two-person compact model.
The new millennium brought about a new focus for Kawasaki. The MULE’s core value of rugged capability remained the same, but more emphasis was placed on style and comfort than ever before. This decade also saw the release of diesel and convertible bed models.
Kawasaki delivered better fuel economy and higher load capacity with the 2000 MULE 2510 Diesel. This heavy-duty model was a top choice in fields where diesel is the primary fuel type, like mining and agriculture.
The latest evolution in MULE technology arrived in the form of the two-wheel drive 3000, four-wheel drive 3010, and turf-model 3020. All three were powered by liquid-cooled 617cc V-Twin engines and featured all-new Continuously Variable Transmissions. With improved ergonomics and more focus on style, the 3000-series MULEs proved to be some of the hardest-working and most durable machines yet.
A stronger CVT belt, improved exhaust system, and new cylinder block are just a few of the upgrades that came with the 2003 MULE 3010 Diesel. This rig was powered by the same diesel engine as the MULE 2510, but dressed in the pickup truck-style of the 3000 models.
The MULE 3010 was also released in a camo edition in 2003. This was Kawasaki’s first step in catering more toward woodsmen and hunters.
Sales of the MULE 600 models commenced in 2005. These new models, dubbed the “Baby MULEs,” featured a 401cc engine, new high-volume bodywork, and a more rugged suspension. Both the 600 and the 610 4×4 remained compact enough to fit in a truck bed.
This was also the year we were introduced to the world’s first convertible MULE. The 3010 Trans4x4 featured two rows of seats and looked pretty standard upon first glance. But an innovative convertible feature allowed you to fold the rear seat down and extend the bed, greatly increasing your cargo capacity.
The convertible feature was a hit, so Kawasaki decided it was here to stay. The MULE 3010 Trans4x4 Diesel was released in 2007 and featured a 953cc diesel engine. In addition to a powerful engine, this model rolled out new features like coil-reinforced shocks, DeDion axles, and a leaf-spring rear suspension for a high load capacity.
The following year, an Electronic Power Steering version of the same machine was released. The MULE 3010 Diesel (non-Trans model) received the same EPS upgrade.
The next step in Kawasaki innovation arrived in 2009. Sales of the MULE 4000 series began this year. These machines came in a “big truck-style” package, reflecting the power that the entire MULE line emulates. The 4000 models all came with fuel injection for easy starting and consistent power.
Another decade, another new focus for Kawasaki. Without leaving any of the original MULE ideals behind, they began to shine the spotlight on ride experience in 2010. For the first time in Kawasaki MULE history, the company started experimenting with industrial UTVs that mixed business with pleasure.
Larger 26” tires and 12” wheels earned this model the nickname of the “Bigfoot” MULE. The 610 4×4 came with a sporty design and more ground clearance than the average MULE, making it better suited for off-roading. It featured the same dependable performance of the MULE 610 4×4 that was born in 2005, but with more of a recreation focus.
The world had to wait five years for a new MULE model, but Kawasaki made it worth the wait. The PRO-FXT changed the market with its spacious bench seating that could fit either three or six passengers, thanks to Kawasaki’s Trans cab design. Being able to fit so many riders comfortably made the PRO-FXT an instant hit for both work and play.
Two new models were added to the MULE PRO family the following year. The new MULE PRO Diesel Series introduced two class-leading, work-focused UTVs. Both were powered by massive 933cc triple-cylinder engines.
The MULE SX quickly gained popularity as a compact and value-driven side-by-side. It had a classic new design that was modern yet reminiscent of the very first MULEs. The compact size made it good for maneuvering through tight spaces, and it could easily fit in the back of a pickup truck.
Side-by-side enthusiasts were expecting big things for the MULE’s 30th birthday, and Kawasaki delivered. Two new models were released this year, both offering the same premium style and powerful capability as the models before them. The MULE PRO-FXR was a compact UTV that plays as hard as it works and the 4000 Trans featured the company’s signature convertible cab design.
If you’ve ever owned a MULE, or if you know someone who does, you can attest to the capability of these hardworking machines.
We haven’t seen anything new from the MULE line in three years now, but we’re sure Kawasaki has something in the works. No matter what comes next, the fact remains that MULEs have withstood the test of time for the last 30+ years—and we don’t see that changing any time soon.
So what MULE are you driving? Whether you’re still getting things done in one of the original models or you’ve upgraded, SuperATV has plenty of parts to keep your MULE running strong for years to come.