Detroit Motor Show: Hyundai Santa Cruz chasing Aussie ute buyers

Hyundai Santa Cruz

THE Hyundai Santa Cruz gatecrashed the Detroit motor show with funky, muscular and edgy design in an intriguing package, and Hyundai Australia boss John Elsworth thinks it will find a place in the heart of Aussie ute owners.

Based on the next Hyundai iX35 platform, the Santa Cruz is much smaller than a Toyota HiLux, and more RAV4 in its dimensions. In Detroit, it looks like a scale model compared with the behemoths that dominate the sales charts, but that's the point. 

"We wanted to make sure that the customer isn't getting a boxy, traditional pick-up truck that has a lot of towing capacity, because that's not the story here at all," said Hyundai North America design chief Chris Chapman.

"The idea here is a unibody, versatile, everyday driver, and when I need it, I have the extra space in the back."

So Hyundai North America, which developed the Santa Cruz under the name 'Project Boulder' after the Colorado city, created a five-seater with suicide doors and a rear tray area that extends like a dining table to carry more gear – an innovation Hyundai wouldn't reveal in detail because it's currently patenting the design.

Overall size of the ute is designed for easy city parking and manoeuvrability; it's not trying to convert die-hard truckers.

"It's more meant for CUV buyers [Crossover Utility Vehicles, such as the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V]," said Mark Dipko, HMA's product chief.

That means it will be priced and specced alongside crossovers and is aimed at buyers under 30, as well as young women, led by an entry-level front-wheel-drive model.

"We'd be looking at a diesel for it," Dipko told Wheels. "The 2.0-litre R diesel that we have already is a brilliant engine. It can deliver pretty much everything that this customer is going to need, and get the nice fuel economy."

It's all production-ready, too, so it could be in showrooms swiftly.

"We made sure to make all of those decisions. Everything we see here is on package, except for the wheels; it's not a traditional show vehicle.

“We think we can get it fairly quickly to market if it's approved, if the reception is as we hope. This is a love letter to our Korean counterparts to accelerate the process."

Hyundai Australia chief operating officer John Elsworth will also be sending Hyundai HQ a love letter, as he wants the Santa Cruz for Australia to pick up on the lifestyle buyers currently in locally made Commodore and Falcon utes.

"Big utes aren't for everybody, and with Holden and Ford not offering that sort of vehicle in the future [with the conclusion of Australian manufacturing], there's a gap there in the market," Elsworth said.

"And I think you'll find there's a blending of crossovers and SUVs and light commercials and this does fill that gap."

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