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Hyundai Santa Cruz off the table for Australia

Hyundai's in-development lifestyle pickup would be a real differentiator in Australia compared to the rougher HiLux and Ranger, but no dice. It's left-hand drive only.

3 months ago
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Mike Costello
Comparisons Editor

While we prefer to talk about things that are coming to Australia rather than things that are not, we’ll make an exception for the Hyundai Santa Cruz pickup.

Hyundai Australia re-iterated this week it won’t get access to this softened ‘lifestyle ute’ because it’s being made in left-hand drive (LHD) only, with the United Stated first and foremost in the plans. The American region demanded it, developed it, and will make it.

This is despite a section on Hyundai Australia’s own website saying otherwise, using an image of the original concept car from 2015. See the screen shot below.

It’s expected that the Santa Cruz will be based on the same platform underpinning the just-upgraded Santa Fe family SUV, which has been ported over to the same new architecture as Kia’s latest Sorento not even half way through its lifecycle.

We have a pretty good idea of how it will look because a camo car has been spied during testing in the USA.

There’s a prominent grille and integrated daytime running lights, below which sits the indicators and main beam headlamps. The front bumper very car-like compared to the crop of dual-cab utes offered in Australia, while the tray looks to be integrated with the body through a sloping sail panel.

It’s expected to be powered by a range of petrol engines, paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. That said, the Santa Fe’s 147kW/440Nm 2.2-lire diesel and eight-speed auto would work well.

Its most logical competitor in the USA is the unibody Honda Ridgeline, however the Santa Cruz is expected to be smaller. Despite lagging behind the likes of Chevrolet and Ford in sales, the Ridgeline has a passionate following among owners who love its car-like driving experience and cabin.

“It’s not available to us in right-hand drive… [though] we’re interested in that vehicle for sure,” said Hyundai Australia’s head spokesperson Bill Thomas.

“We explore all options we can,” added general manager of product Andrew Tuitahi.

“Santa Cruz is certainly a niche product but I think it would be an interesting offering.”

Still, Hyundai also didn’t think it would get the Palisade in right-hand drive, and yet this behemoth SUV is arriving later this year. The difference is that car is made in Korea not the USA, and that might be a final point of dissuasion.

The other pickup-related issue to explore with Hyundai is the latest on its long-awaited, begged-for, and likely green-lit body-on-frame dual-cab to tackle the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger.

This is the product Hyundai Australia needs if it wants to eclipse Mazda and take second spot on the charts behind Toyota. Without a dual cab it’s missing out on almost 20 per cent of the local market.

We’ve run rendered images speculating on the look, and many reports indicate 2023 is the key date to look for. Talking to the issue this week, COO John Kett said he was philosophical about the ongoing lack of a ute, despite copious internal lobbying coming from Australia over many years.

He pointed to a plan to launch 11 new vehicles in 11 months including an i30 sedan, Palisade, updated Santa Fe and new Tucson, as plenty to be getting along with.

“I think that’s a lot to take on, let alone this one part of the market we don’t compete in. So for me those things don’t worry me too much, I’ve learned to live with [what we have].”

The subtext is that, if Hyundai turns around its ongoing sales decline evident since 2015 (and resulting market share dip from 8.8 per cent to 6.9 per cent), it’ll have a stronger bargaining position to expedite the pickup development program. Hyundai has many global priorities after all.


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