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Hyundai Palisade litmus test for Santa Cruz ute

Lots riding incoming flagship SUV as Hyundai continues to push case for pick-up here

30 Jun 2020

HYUNDAI has revealed that sales performance of the forthcoming Palisade flagship SUV in Australia might have a bearing on other future models such as the long-anticipated Santa Cruz pick-up.


Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) will launch the Palisade by the end of this year after successfully winning the case for right-hand-drive production of the large SUV, and has been working for years on bringing a suitable utility to Australia to compete in the all-important pick-up segment.


While GoAuto understands that a ute with a ladder-frame chassis that lines up directly against the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger is still on the agenda for release by about 2023, a production version of the more recreational monocoque-chassis Santa Cruz concept – believed to be based on the Santa Fe and the closely related Palisade – is also still a chance for this market.


Speaking to GoAuto at a future-model briefing in Sydney last week, HMCA chief operating officer John Kett steadfastly refused to discuss the company’s pick-up plans, but conceded that convincing its South Korean parent to invest in other niche, and often American-targeted, models for our market would be easier if Palisade became a sales hit here.


“With (Palisade) volumes, we’re not about to take the market by storm, so we’re not relying on it to drive the scale of our business,” Mr Kett said. “But I think it will play an incredible role for us just to extend the price-point offering with Hyundai with what is a relatively unique product for us. We’re quite excited about it.


“And if we can make that work, then it gives us a lot more confidence around other product programs that we are in the pitching for that we haven’t revealed … that would require some conversion and confidence around that conversion for us, and the threshold for business cases for products for HMCA don’t seem as onerous as some other brands.


“So as long as we can generate some volume and demonstrate some value, there seems to be a real appetite to make sure we can maintain a fair share in this country.


“We’re the beneficiary of an amazing and innovative parent, so when they do a facelift or introduce a new car, there are really credible, visible features or changes to that car, and this (Palisade) will be one of them.


“So we’re confident in the Palisade, it doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting related to volume, but if it does do a little bit better than what we planned for, then it’s going to underwrite the probability and cashflow for other new product programs that we bring into the business.”


Mr Kett said that Hyundai’s entrenched position in the Australian market is testimony to the importance of the local operation from a global perspective.


He also said that a premium SUV offering should do well, based on the fact that 50 per cent of Santa Fe sales are at the “Highlander price point”.


“We’re talking (around) $70,000, so it gave us some confidence that … there’s an opportunity there for us to succeed,” he said.


Mr Kett said a pick-up would naturally be a welcome addition to the HMCA family but that his main focus was on successfully launching and establishing the 18 all-new or facelifted models due to launch over the next 18 months.


“We have an incredible product launch cycle in such a condensed timeframe and we need to get those right,” he said.


“And getting them right and flawlessly executing all … we know they’re all not going to be home runs, but it’s going to position us quite strongly there, and all we can do is do, achieve, execute and succeed our way through this process.


“And if we do that, all those other products that are on the plan drives the confidence with the parent company that we can take on a broader portfolio.


“So, until then, I promise you I don’t lose any sleepless nights about not having (a HiLux rival). I am fixated on making sure these 18 new products are launched at the best of our capabilities.


“The Palisade will play its role. If it doesn’t sell as aggressively as we would like, we don’t want to get to continuously visibly repricing that car, but instead give it some time to get some traction and demonstrate the capabilities that it does have.”


Previewed as a concept at the 2015 North American International Auto Show, the production Santa Cruz is believed to carry over many of the latter’s design elements, including a somewhat Subaru BRAT/Brumby-esque profile.


Its monocoque body is said to favour cabin space, steering, handling, braking, ride and refinement qualities far more effectively than most of its truck-based rivals, while a towing capacity of more than 2200kg on some grades is anticipated.


Engine choices are said to include a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol, 3.5 or 3.8-litre V6 petrol as per the Santa Fe and Palisade SUVs respectively, as well as their 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel alternative.


When the Santa Cruz is finally unveiled remains to be seen, though Hyundai in America has said that production will commence in Alabama during 2021.

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