Future Cars

Hyundai readying first pickup for US market

Based on 2015's smash-hit Santa Cruz concept, think of it as more of a crossover with a bed than a full-fledged truck.

Hyundai

After years of prevaricating, Hyundai has revealed that it's giving a US-market pickup truck the green light. The news was first confirmed by Michael O'Brien, vice president of corporate and product planning at Hyundai USA, to news agency Reuters, and has since been independently verified by Roadshow.

Set to be based on its well-received Santa Cruz concept from 2015, the as-yet-unnamed vehicle will seek to tap into a new, entry-level pickup segment, one that likely has as much in common with car-based crossover utilities as it does with traditional body-on-frame trucks. Introduced at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, the Santa Cruz concept explicitly targeted young shoppers with active lifestyles -- so called "urban adventurers" who don't need or want the compromises inherent with large truck ownership. 

In this respect, the forthcoming Korean offering will probably read more like Honda's Ridgeline, but it's actually likely to be somewhat smaller and less expensive. The resulting vehicle is also expected to place less emphasis on traditional pickup truck metrics like towing capacity and payload in exchange for a more manageable footprint and heightened efficiency. It's also likely to be front-wheel drive, with available all-wheel drive (the original concept was AWD and powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder), and be built atop a platform shared with one of Hyundai's existing crossover SUVs.

Hyundai has finally confirmed a US pickup, and it's likely to be an innovative little thing.

Hyundai

Hyundai has built open-bed commercial trucks for overseas markets for ages, and indeed, it's toyed with offering a pickup truck in North America for many years. For a while, it even played with the idea of building a full-size half-ton vehicle to take on industry goliaths like the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado. But even with the possibility of huge per-unit profits as an incentive, Hyundai decided to sit on the sidelines and watch as other Asian manufacturers -- particularly Toyota and Nissan -- have struggled mightily to make inroads into the full-size market.

A Santa-Cruz-based model may not offer Hyundai the same profit potential, but it could well be the smarter play. Sales of smaller midsize pickups have been accelerating in the States over the past few years after a long decline. And besides, a vehicle with its more modest size and capabilities will have an easier time meeting future fuel economy and emissions guidelines. As a white-space product, Hyundai's pickup could capture a new audience while setting the blueprint for a class of unibody-based small trucklets that America hasn't really seen since the early eighties. 

Of course, comparing the production Santa Cruz with something like a Subaru Brat or Dodge Rampage would also be misleading, as any vehicle Hyundai produces figures to be both significantly larger and more refined. And if it ends up looking like the 2015 Santa Cruz concept, this future softroader will also end up with small rear-hinged secondary doors to give access to a small rear seat -- something those Eighties vehicles never had. 

No word yet on production timing, powertrain specifics or pricing, but the new model can't come soon enough. After years of industry-defining growth, Hyundai sales have struggled to keep pace with the larger US market in recent years. Critics blame an undersized crossover SUV portfolio and an overreliance on sedans, a body style with shrinking sales prospects.