Hyundai Motor America said it will move forward with a plan to capture “urban adventurer” buyers by putting its Santa Cruz crossover truck concept into production.
The concept is an odd vehicle that looks like a modern Chevrolet El Camino, but it sits much higher off the ground. It has two full-size doors and two small, rear-hinged doors. It features a section that telescopes from the rear, increasing the size of the cargo bed to almost that of a midsize pickup truck.
The project “has been greenlighted for development and is planned for the U.S. market. It’s still too soon to discuss market timing or further product details, but this innovative offering will be inspired by the well-received concept vehicle and bring a fresh utility vehicle interpretation to fit the lifestyles of a new generation of buyers,” Hyundai said in a statement Tuesday.
The South Korean automaker wants to increase its offering of SUVs and trucks after being caught off-guard by recent changes in the U.S. auto market. Vehicles classified as light trucks, including pickups, SUVs and crossovers, accounted for about 62 percent of the U.S. auto market through July.
Hyundai is a sedan-centric manufacturer, which has hurt its U.S. sales. Through the first seven months of this year, the automaker sold 388,860 vehicles, a 13.4 percent drop from the same period a year earlier. The Santa Cruz is the closest model to a pickup truck Hyundai would have in the U.S. market.
The model also would enter a nascent market for so-called urban trucks. Honda has successfully tapped into that market with its midsize Ridgeline pickup, by offering features such as front-wheel-drive and a lockable trunk beneath the truck bed. The Japanese automaker has sold 21,182 Ridgelines through July, a 254 percent surge compared with the same period in 2016. Ridgeline sales have surpassed General Motors’ GMC Canyon, a more traditional midsize pickup.
Hyundai introduced the Santa Cruz as a concept vehicle at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit without committing to producing the vehicle. At the time, the automaker’s executives said there was a large population of consumers who didn’t consider themselves pickup drivers but still wanted the functionality of a truck.
They are urban buyers who have to deal with tighter parking on streets and in garages, and increasing congestion overall, Mark Dipko, Hyundai’s U.S. director of corporate planning said at the time. Yet they still want to be able to haul lumber, bikes, kayaks and other equipment in the back without spoiling the auto’s interior, he said, naming such buyers “urban adventurers.”
“This new crossover allows them all the expandable utility they need throughout their active week, from work-life professionalism, to social interests, to a whole variety of outdoor pursuits,” he said.
The truck-crossover mashup allows Hyundai to offer a twist on the truck market without competing with the Ford, Chevrolet and Ram, which dominate the segment.
“We didn’t want to cover the same ground as a traditional truck,” Dipko said.
But there might not be many buyers for such a vehicle, said Michael Ramsey, an analyst with Garner Inc.
“I doubt it will sell in big volumes but it will likely garner a following,” he said. “The truck trend is strong right now and this segment can accommodate another player.”