Hyundai, Honda step up truck operations

Utility vehicles again seem to be the focus of North American sales

Published: May 22, 2015, 3:00 AM
Updated: November 23, 2021, 11:58 AM

Hyundai Santa-Cruz Crossover Truck Concept - Hyundai Santa Cruz Concept Hyundai has been leery of jumping into the pickup truck market, but its new Santa Cruz “crossover truck” concept could provide a safe point of entry. In a modern take on the Ford Ranchero and Chevrolet El Camino, the Santa Cruz offers plenty of neat usable features, like rear-hinged rear doors and plenty of tie-downs around the bed and rails, while the tailgate can slide out – like a drawer – to accommodate longer items. Perhaps most intriguingly, the Santa Cruz uses a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine with 190 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque, combined with HTRAC all-wheel drive. No word on which platform it would be based on, but Hyundai says it offers “typical CUV driving character” so almost certainly a front-drive unibody rather than a separate body-on-frame construction like traditional pickups.

With gas prices seemingly stabilizing again, it looks as though the North American “truck” market is set to rebound in sales.

The designation is placed in quotations because there are actually very few trucks now included in the truck sales figures reported by auto companies every month.

The majority of those sales are coming from compact and mid-sized crossover utility vehicles that are closer to passenger cars than they are to light trucks in their makeup.

And manufacturers are again taking notice of the shift and offering vehicles that tap into that demand.

Among the latest news to support that movement are swirling rumours that Hyundai is getting ready to announce production of the Santa Cruz pickup, a concept of which was shown in the Detroit at the beginning of 2015. Back then, many outlets forecast its eventual production because among other things, Hyundai announced the concept might be available in front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, and although it was powered by a 190-hp 2.0-litre diesel four-cylinder, there was an option of another engine. Concepts are usually one-off vehicles that don’t have powertrain or drivetrain choices.

The concept was an extended cab bodystyle with rear-hinged rear doors, which sort of flies in the face of current convention for larger, easier-to-access, four-full-door cabins. It was also smaller than many of the current market’s smaller pickups, though it did get away from the slab-sided pickup look.

Other Hyundai rumours state the company is looking at a smaller crossover utility, slotting in below the current Tucson, to compete against the likes of the Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade and the newborn Honda HR-V in a market segment that is in its infancy.

Honda is also heralding the beginning of production of the newest Pilot midsized SUV at its manufacturing facility in Alabama, and putting the final touches on a new Ridgeline pickup that shares the Pilot’s architecture — both are derived from the Honda Accord, as are the Odyssey minivan and Acura MDX crossover and all the utility vehicles will be built at the Lincoln, Alabama complex.

Look for other companies to also step up their “truck” operations in order to take advantage of the apparently burgeoning market, including Mercedes (which recently indicated a desire to step onto the pickup stage).