Hyundai has finally confirmed that it will build the compact Santa Cruz ute in the US – but don’t hold your breath for it to come to Australia.
Based on the same platform as the Tucson SUV, the Santa Cruz will be built in Alabama in the United States from 2021, after a $650 million upgrade to Hyundai’s factory there.
First mooted in 2015 as a concept at the Los Angeles motor show (below), the four-door Santa Cruz ute is much smaller than a Toyota HiLux or Ford Ranger, and its unibody construction mimics that of the dearly departed Holden ute.
The concept – aimed squarely at buyers under 30 years of age - featured cool details like hidden suicide-style rear doors and an innovative extendable rear tray bed.
Read more: Hyundai’s swoopy ute takes shape
However, it’s still unlikely that the Santa Cruz will get the green light for Australia, as Hyundai Australia awaits the arrival of a more commercially-based ute product range.
While local Hyundai sources suggest that the Santa Cruz is still “under study” for Australia, it’s very unlikely – though not impossible – that the US plant would gear up for right-hand-drive for a relatively small production run of cars.
It’s good news for the local area, though; Hyundai plans to add 1000 jobs to the 3300 full- and part-time positions at the Montgomery plant to build the Santa Cruz.
“Bringing the Santa Cruz to Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama demonstrates that Hyundai Motor Company is confident our more than 3,000 team members are ready to build a quality crossover for the U.S. market,” said Byungjin Jin, the president and CEO of the facility.
Hyundai Australia, meanwhile, recently confirmed plans to import a full range of 4x2 and 4x4 utes designed for the local market.
In the face of the success of utes like the HiLux, Ranger, Mitsubishi Triton, Holden Colorado and Isuzu D-MAX, Hyundai is aware that local tastes run more to the traditional rail-based dual-cab product.
“What’s clear to us is that if we’re going to bring a ute out, it had better be a ute,” said new Hyundai Australia CEO John Kett, a long-time stalwart of the automotive industry both here and overseas.
“We’ve got past the first hurdle of what it needs to look like, but it needs to be functional as well. That’s the important part.
“We’re going down that pathway and we’re working towards it. We just have to make sure that when it arrives, it’s a bloody ute.”
Do you think a smaller, more stylish ute would work well in Australia for Hyundai? Let us know below!