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Off-road focussed SUV on Hyundai wishlist

Could the Terracan return? Hyundai says it wants a 4WD, possibly with all-electric power


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29 Nov 2023

HYUNDAI recently outed its off-road focussed Santa Fe XRT at the Los Angeles Auto Show, prompting speculation over if and when the brand would make a return to the off-road SUV segment it abandoned in Australia with the Terracan back in 2007.


The South Korean brand’s Australian division has dropped heavy hints that it is interested in replicating the XRT theme that has already been implemented on some SUVs in the North American market but making a business case for right-hand drive versions of internal combustion engine and hybrid models like the Santa Fe XRT might not stack up.


It is a situation that might force Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) to wait for a future SUV based on dedicated battery electric vehicle (BEV) architecture before it can offer the first genuine off-roader for this market since the Terracan.


Speaking to GoAuto at the recent launch of hybrid and battery electric Kona small SUV variants in Canberra, HMCA product planning manager Chris Saltapidas said the brand was open to offering off-road vehicles as part of an expanded SUV range, but that restrictions around the availability of right-hand drive may rule out such a model Down Under.


“At the moment, we can’t officially comment about the (Santa Fe) XRT, but we will have something to say at another date,” he said.


“But to answer your question specifically, Australia is deemed at the moment by (HMCA parent company) HMC as one of its best general market areas – or export markets – which means we do have access to a lot of things other markets do not, like the recently announced MY24 Palisade, for example.


“We have a lot of open channels with head office, and we are pretty much on most product programs that are currently open globally.”


While Mr Saltapidas was unable to provide details of just which programs were likely to bear fruit for Australian dealerships, he did say that the esteem with which Hyundai Australia is held at a global level means it is now easier to have vehicles produced with specific market needs in mind – including those for four-wheel drives.


“I wouldn’t say it (Australian Design Rules) is the issue it once was. When a package is designed, it is designed from the outset to meet each market’s requirements, so we’re not seeing the sticking points we once had,” he explained.


“ADRs, for example, are always taken into account for everything that we do. What usually will rule a product out is if it is low volume and/or not made for right-hand drive. Then it’s a case of being placed in the too-hard basket.


“I think we’ll always have those examples, even though we are heavily involved in every product program, as I said. We still have hurdles, but I wouldn’t say ADRs are the main hurdle anymore – the main hurdle now is right-hand drive, unfortunately.”


Moving into the popular four-wheel drive segment would give Hyundai showrooms leverage against both stalwart and newly introduced vehicles across a range of product sizes.


Whether that means the current range of ICE-powered SUVs will undergo modification in later iterations – or a new crop of battery electric vehicles based on the company’s dedicated E-GMP underpinnings would be the preferred option – was a point Mr Saltapidas could only allude to.


“I think there is definitely an opportunity in the market – and we’ve seen that by how well our competitors are doing in that space. There is a lot of opportunity not just for Australia, but globally too, and we have realised that, and started to address that overseas,” he hinted.


“For example, the just-announced Santa Fe XRT you mentioned, that’s been offered as a dress-up package in the US on Palisade and Tucson already – and that is something you’ll see more of from a local perspective.


“There is also a desire to have that (an all-electric SUV with off-road capability) in this country, but at this stage we really can’t talk about it any further.”

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