Hyundai is preparing to add a pickup truck to its range following confirmation from the South Korean brand’s US head of product planning this week.
The South Korean carmaker first showed how a potential ute for the brand might look in 2015 with the Santa Cruz Concept, with Hyundai’s US vice president of corporate and product planning confirming to Reuters that the production green light had been given.
But HiLux and Ranger owners considering trading in their current heavy-duty work utes on something with a Hyundai badge will be disappointed to hear that in its concept form the Santa Cruz lacked a separate ladder-frame chassis required for ultimate off-road and towing ability.
With a projected 2020 on sale date there’s still time for Hyundai to make changes to the final production version, but it’s believed the brand won’t match traditional pickup rivals head-on, instead preferring a lifestyle oriented vehicle to act as an extension of its SUV range.
Hyundai also confirmed that next year will see the introduction of a new Santa Fe large SUV (for the US market at least) with a change in product strategy that will see the current North American two-body range cut back to one single Santa Fe model with a newly named seven-seat model arriving to take the place of the larger-bodied version that isn’t sold in Australia.
The move to expand Hyundai’s SUV range comes as crucial North American sales have slipped almost 11 percent for the end of July 2017, with Australian sales following a similar trend, dipping 7.5 percent compared to the same period last year.
Locally the brand will have its new Kona small SUV ready to compete against the like of the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V within the next couple of months in the hopes of catching the attention of buyers who continue to turn away from traditional small hatchbacks.
With the departure of both the Ford Falcon ute last year, and the Commodore-based Holden Ute next month Hyundai could have a potential niche all to itself with a ute that’s smaller than the traditional 4x4 dual cabs that account for almost one in five new car sales in Australia, but Hyundai Australia’s head of PR, Bill Thomas told TMR the move was unlikely.
“Santa Cruz is not on the radar for us,” Mr Thomas said. “Unlikely to be built in RHD - it’s North America-focused: a smaller pickup with an extending load bay.”
“The car researched very strongly in the US and no doubt it will sell well there, in a market where customers’ needs for bigger pickups are well serviced by the Big Three”
However, earlier this year Hyundai Australia COO, Scott Grant, scuttled suggestions that the Santa Cruz project could be in line for an Australian arrival, instead confirming that a proper HiLux-rivalling 4x4 was also under development.
"It's being planned, it's being prepared," Grant said at the time. "I do know that HMC [Hyundai Motor Company] is taking it very seriously and there's a model code allocated to it and there's some work under way, but what the time frames are as far as I'm aware there's no commitment.”
Planning for a genuine 4x4 ute means that Hyundai Australia could withdraw support for a right hand drive version of the American-made Santa Cruz, preferring instead to concentrate efforts on the as-yet unnamed and unseen dual-cab 4x4.
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