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Hyundai ute launch pushed back to 2023

Waiting game: A production version of the monocoque Santa Cruz concept (left) is already under development, but Hyundai is hoping to produce a ladder-frame ute for the Australian market instead.

Australia heavily involved in development of Hyundai ute now due in about four years

18 Sep 2019

HYUNDAI Motor Company Australia (HMCA) has once again reset its timing expectations for a long-awaited ute, which has been pushed for since 2015. While yet to receive approval despite recent local involvement, the new model is hoped to be in showrooms “by 2023”.


Speaking to GoAuto this week at the Venue national media launch in Ocean View, Queensland, HMCA chief executive officer JW Lee said the ute program has progressed, but several key decisions, such as whether to develop a rugged ladder-frame chassis for it, are still yet to be made.


“We are very much working on that,” he said. “We are looking at some smoke on the horizon, (asking) ‘Where are the fires?’, so we keep watching for the fires.


“A few weeks ago, a research team came to Australia to study what types of ute are required in the Australian market, but they also went to other markets, (including) South Asia and the Middle East.


“One thing is clear: HMC (Hyundai Motor Company) clearly understands the necessity of this ute in Australia and is very serious – that’s why they sent the research team here.


“But still, there are several areas we need to develop. For example, what types of pick-up? Double-cab, single-cab? The demand of each market is something different.


“We need to explore what types of pick-up will be developed and which plant the pick-up will be manufactured at.”


Asked if native South Korea is a likely source for the ute, given HMCA already imports most of its models from there, Mr Lee said that is one possibility, noting that HMC does not have a manufacturing presence in Thailand, where most utes are sourced from in Australia.


“We don’t have any plants in Thailand, so maybe Korea is a strong candidate, but there are some other global plants we have here and there,” he said.


“But honestly, nothing is clear to us. We are aiming for the pick-up by 2023, but that is just our aim. It’s yet to be decided where and when and what types of car.”


Mr Lee added that HMCA would like a broad range of ute configurations that will cater for both workhorse and lifestyle buyers, having already made this recommendation to HMC.


“We want these types of cars in the Australian market, this variant and this engine size … but that’s really just our recommendations,” he said.


As far as the ute’s sales potential is concerned, Mr Lee was frank in his assessment of its local prospects, noting that segment leadership will likely not be on the horizon anytime soon.


“The more sales, the better,” he said. “The pick-up market is big, but there are two top pick-up trucks, the HiLux and Ranger. Barring those two models, the volume of other models is more 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000 (units per year). Hopefully we can sell at such a level, but not top two, but let’s see.”


Mr Lee was cautious, however, about creating a homogenous ute, stressing that the new model needs to stand out from the competition to tempt buyers.


“Unless we are manufacturing a different product (from) existing models, I don’t think customers are going to choose our pick-up, so maybe our R&D has to develop something different (from) other manufacturers, but I don’t know how they’ll make it,” he said.


“My recommendation is if we make same types of pick-up, then how can we differentiate ourselves from existing pick-up trucks?”


As such, Mr Lee was coy about how different the Hyundai-badged ute will be to its expected Kia cousin, although unique exteriors and interiors are expected at minimum.


Meanwhile, the prospects are not as clear for an off-road-focused SUV based on the ute platform, which would compete with Toyota’s Fortuner and Ford’s Everest, with HMCA coordinating director of product planning Scott Yoon only confirming that HMC is doing its due diligence.


“We’ve been asked to look at the market and we’ve analysed it and submitted a report to head office on what sort of requirements are needed to make a competitive car, (but) it’s still something we can’t comment further on,” he said.

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