Hyundai Australia has reiterated that the forthcoming production-ready pickup, under development for the US, is not a high priority here.
Instead, the Korean brand’s local arm is waiting for the now seemingly inevitable HiLux-rivalling commercial ute due around 2020.
Reports out of the US last week from Motor Trend cited Hyundai US boss Dave Zuchowski all-but confirming that the pickup — previewed by the Santa Cruz concept pictured here — would reach production, which has naturally raised the topic again locally.
Hyundai is the third most popular brand by sales in Australia, but has little chance of catching Mazda or Toyota without a proper ute to complement its hugely popular iLoad van — considering around one-in-six new vehicles sold here are pickups.
Hyundai Australia public relations general manager Bill Thomas said this week that getting the SUV-based Santa Cruz in right-hand drive would be a tough business case to crack, and that the company would be better off focusing on other models while waiting for the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger fighter expected a little down the track.
“It's not the ute we need, but we're not ruling it out, either. It might do really well in Australia — we don't know — but actually getting it is difficult,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the two big questions were: will right-hand drive capability be engineered into the car from the get-go, considering the left-hook US is the key market and project driver? And will the US plant to build it have capacity for RHD cars if asked?
“RHD investment will need a very strong business case. It's a brilliant project for America and no doubt will be successful, but it's not as relevant for us. And if US research is correct, they may very well sell every car they make!” he said.
"The US research done on that vehicle was incredibly detailed. And the results were obviously positive, so they see a strong market for Santa Cruz in North America.
“We haven't researched the possibilities of the vehicle here and I'm not sure it'll be a priority given the new products we have coming next year, including the new i30 and new small SUV.”
Clearly, building on what the company told us earlier this year, the proper rugged 4x4 ute is the real target for Australia — a market we understand is a key country, and one that has been involved in the pitch from the early stages.
“We don't have official confirmation that a Hilux rival will definitely be produced, but the signs from our parent company are stronger now than they've ever been,” Thomas said.
This ties in from our chat with HMCA chief operating officer (and former Toyota marketing head) Scott Grant last month, who said that messages out of Korea had recently become a little different when the topic of a light commercial ute/pickup was broached.
“It’s been advanced as we understand it,” he said, though tempered this by adding that “it won’t be anything this side of 2020”.
“In the past we’ve been proposing, [the response had been] ‘yes, thanks for information, we will consider’, to now being a ‘yes, there’s a similar requirement in other markets’, so we’re working towards something," he said.
“I can’t confirm what or when, but it’s a slightly different message. Not any time soon but it’s starting to feel like there’s some movement,” he added.