New Hyundai Australia CEO John Kett has lit the fire under a long-awaited ute program, confirming that the company is working on a full range of one-tonne ute-based commercial vehicles for sale in Australia.
“What’s clear to us is that if we’re going to bring a ute out, it had better be a ute,” said Kett, a long-time stalwart of the car 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.”
Previous Hyundai pick-up concepts have been passed on smaller ‘unibody’ designs (below), but the one-tonner will be based on a ladder-frame chassis similar to that used under rivals like the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger, with development costs to be shared with sister company (and staunch rival) Kia.
The Santa Cruz ute concept is based on a car platform
Kett told WhichCar that Hyundai is currently working on a framework around the pick-up model mix.
“We’re looking at a range,” he confirmed. “When you cut up the ute market, you split it up between 4x4 and 4x2, who owns 4x2 and what powertrain goes with that [internally] and then 4x4 crew cab versus cab/chassis and so on… we want to be smart about it and that’s what we’re going through at the moment.
“Andrew [Tuatahi, Hyundai product manager] is having a lot of sleepless nights over this because we’re going fast down that road, but we do need to be smart about it, so that when people look at it, they say ‘yep, that’s it’.”
Tuatahi acknowledged that the plan - first floated in 2014 – is based on a vehicle that can deliver what Australians have come to expect from a ute in terms of towing capacity and payload, but other factors need to be worked through before more details can be confirmed.
“The fundamental request [to head office] hasn’t changed in terms of powertrains, drivelines, chassis set-up and abilities, relative to towing and off-road ability,” said Tuatahi. “That fundamental request has been consistent.
“There have been a few other things that have changed recently in terms of other market’s production capacity and facilities, and that’s the dynamic we’re working with at the moment, just to make sure that whatever is agreed to as a solution for the one-tonne pick-up works for us and the other target markets that the car will be developed for.”
WhichCar believes that this refers to Hyundai’s recently announced plans to build a new plant in Indonesia, which shares free trade status with Australia. One-tonne utes like the Toyota Hilux and Isuzu D-Max are already strong sellers in the Asian region, while the existence of a free trade agreement will give Hyundai flexibility when it comes to pricing the ute for the Australian market.
It’s also possible that Hyundai might throw the pick-up into the US market, which is slowly developing an appetite for a one-tonne ute thanks to vehicles like the Ford Ranger.
The proposed new plant will cost more than $1 billion to build, and have an annual capacity of 250,000 vehicles once finished.