Hyundai is poised to add a vehicle that could catapult it from third place on the sales podium to second place outright behind market leader Toyota. The lack of a ute is seen as the only thing holding the Korean manufacturer back from overtaking Japan's Mazda.
Hyundai Australia has been calling for a ute since 2015 – and pick-ups have been our top selling vehicles for the past three years in a row – but it seems the company may finally get its wish.
Although the ute is not confirmed – but highly likely – Australia's most senior Hyundai executive said "2022-2023, that is our time frame as of now, even though the model and (factory) are yet to be fixed".
Hyundai is at the very beginning of development of its first ever ute. A team of experts from Hyundai recently visited Australia to conduct detailed market research; they had also visited other Asian countries and the Middle East.
While this may seem incidental, it shows that Hyundai is yet to lock in the design, size, engines and manufacturing location for its ute, meaning it has a long road ahead to develop one of the most complex vehicle types in the automotive world.
Australia's top-selling utes need to be able to tow 3500kg, carry close to 1000kg, be capable off-road, drive with SUV-like levels of comfort and refinement, and have the latest technology and safety aids. Few vehicles on the planet need to be so capable across so many criteria.
When asked why it has taken Hyundai so long to introduce a vehicle in one of Australia's fastest-growing market segments, Mr Lee said: "For this vehicle, [Hyundai global] never said no, but they've said 'okay let's see' [regarding Australian availability]."
"A few weeks ago researchers came to Australia to study the pick-up and ute market. That's a big improvement for us. This time I think they are serious, and I think they understand this vehicle is necessary for the Australian market. Not only Australia – South East Asia, the Middle East, even the Americas, [these markets] need a ute and have strongly requested a ute."
When asked if Hyundai would develop a car-derived lifestyle-focused ute, such as the Santa Cruz concept pictured, or a heavy-duty body-on-frame workhorse such as the Toyota HiLux, Mr Lee said such a decision was still being discussed at head office.
"There are still many areas we need to explore – 4x4, 4x2, single-cab, dual-cab. Those areas are yet to be decided," said Mr Lee. "We are going to develop this pick-up for various markets. Each market has different demands. I think the researchers need to study more to come to a final decision [regarding] which way we go."
Hyundai Australia's CEO added that, as with its passenger car and SUV range, the new ute would be subject to its extensive local tuning program to tailor it to Australian conditions and consumer tastes.
As for where it will be built, Mr Lee was unable to confirm whether the new ute would be made in the company's home of Korea or at one of its international facilities.
Currently, Hyundai's Jeonju plant in South Korea is the company's main plant for "global commercial vehicles", also claimed to be the "world's biggest production center for commercial vehicles". This facility would be a logical first preference for the brand's upcoming utility.
Another option is that Hyundai could establish a manufacturing facility in Thailand, where most of Australia's biggest selling utes are made, including the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, Holden Colorado, Nissan Navara, Isuzu D-Max and Mazda BT-50.
Meanwhile Hyundai says it has an annual sales target of about 15,000, which would put it on par with the sales rate of the Mazda BT-50 and is a little less than the figure quoted by sister brand Kia for its own version of the new pickup.
Kia Australia boss Damien Meredith said in July the company wants a slice of up to 10 per cent of the local ute market, or roughly 20,000 sales annually.
Based on these estimates, the Hyundai ute would become its third best seller behind the i30 hatchback and Tucson SUV, now that the ageing Accent light hatch is out of production (though remaining stock should see out the rest of the year).
Despite the new Hyundai ute being a few years away yet, Mr. Lee made it no secret how keen he is to bring a pickup to Australia. "I'm really eager to bring this forward, even to tomorrow," he said.
Stay tuned to CarAdvice for all the latest. Pictured: Hyundai Santa Cruz concept.