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Hyundai ute takes shape

Freight train: A ute is on the product-planning agenda for Hyundai.

Korean giant may develop HiLux rival as Hyundai eyes second largest sales segment

25 May 2010

NOT content with renewing almost its entire passenger car and SUV line-up over the next three years – as well as adding three key new small cars, three new mid-size model derivatives and a new small SUV – Hyundai is in the early stages of developing its first pick-up, which could lead to a full range of one-tonne ute variants to rival Toyota’s top-selling HiLux within three years.

Officially, Hyundai has ruled out a pick-up truck of any type for North America “in the foreseeable future” and denies recent US reports that insist it is in discussions with Chrysler to produce a full-size utility based on the Dodge Ram.

However, GoAuto has learned both American and Australian Hyundai affiliates will present two separate business cases for the development of Hyundai’s first ute at the company’s next bi-annual product planning meeting in Korea next month.

Australia is the world’s fourth-largest one-tonne ute market, and local Hyundai executives hope to ‘piggyback’ support from other right-hand drive nations that demand such a model from Hyundai, in a similar way that Volkswagen did with its forthcoming Amarok dual-cab.

Bouyed by the success of its iMax people-mover and iLoad van – sales of which are both up by more than 260 per cent, combining to attract more than 3200 sales so far this year – Hyundai Motor Company Australia will team up with other RHD Hyundai subsidiaries to vie with Hyundai Motor America over what form Hyundai’s first ute will take.

We understand HMC had originally planned to build one global model for both markets, but has now requested both US and Australian Hyundai sales arms to submit separate design proposals.

“One fox can’t chase two rabbits,” a senior Hyundai executive told us, in reference to HMA’s desire for a full-size pick-up in the vein of Ford’s F-Series and Chevrolet’s Silverado, rather than a smaller utility available in single-cab, space-cab and dual-cab body styles with 4x2 and 4x4 drivetrains like the HiLux.

1 center image Left: Hyundai iLoad. Below: iMax.

Our source says that, in line with Hyundai’s aggressive global product strategy, whichever model HMC decides to green-light the development of first could hit global markets in as little as three years.

“For me Hyundai is wonderful because it moves so quickly,” said Hyundai Design North America design manager Andre Hudson, who designed the exterior of the i45, at its Australian launch last week.

“Of course, that’s an advantage because we can adapt to our customers needs very quickly. It’s also an advantage from the design side because often designers spend too much time getting wrapped up in the developmental space … things often get watered down and end up less pure.

“Our speed of development at Hyundai means that we can consistently get an idea out there and refine it but it remains pure. You can see than in the ix and i45, so I think that’s an advantage for us.

“I think you’re going to continue to see Hyundai design evolve. Of course, we’re going to adapt to global changes and different customer needs.

“I’m working currently on a vehicle that sits in a segment that we don’t currently exist in, so I’m quite excited about that,” said Mr Hudson.

According to Reuters, Hyundai made a proposal to Chrysler in February under which the car-maker would build a truck for Hyundai based on the Ram using its idle US factory capacity, but Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne dismissed Hyundai’s initial approach.

In response, Hyundai said that no pick-up is planned for the US market.

“Hyundai Motor Co denies that there are any current plans to bring a pick-up truck of any type into the U.S. now or in the foreseeable future,” said Hyundai in a statement issued on May 14.

“Hyundai is not in discussion with Chrysler in regard to a selling a rebadged Chrysler Corp pick-up truck, or any other vehicle, in the US.” As in Australia, where Hyundai sales are up a massive 65.4 per cent and the Korean giant narrowly displaced Mazda to be the fourth best selling vehicle brand overall here after the first four months of this year, the US pick-up truck business remains highly lucrative.

Pick-up/cab-chassis models represent the second largest automotive sales segment in Australia (after small cars) and 4x4 versions alone are outsold here only by light, small and large passenger cars, with almost 85,000 examples sold last year and the HiLux topping the sales charts outright last month.

Sales of full-size pick-ups have declined in recent years, but still account for almost 11 per cent of overall passenger car sales and are expected to recover as US housing construction increases.

General Motors and Ford are the dominant pick-up players in the US, while the Ram helped Chrysler post a first-quarter operating profit thanks to its loyal and patriotic US pick-up customer base.

According to Reuters, Hyundai executives have had meetings with representatives of the company’s 800 North American dealers in recent months to discuss the expansion of its model portfolio – including a potential Hyundai pick-up truck.

Despite an expensive promotional push for its high-profile Tundra, Toyota’s pick-up sales in the US amounted to just 20 per cent of GM’s or Ford’s totals.

While Hyundai appears to have modelled itself on the world’s largest car-maker, the fifth-largest auto company is no doubt just as keen to avoid the mistakes made by Toyota in recent times.

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