Hyundai Tells Us An SUV Below The Kona Makes Sense

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And a pickup truck is also very likely.

At the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, Hyundai pulled the wraps off its highly anticipated three-row crossover called the Palisade. Though the Palisade will be a 2020 model, it will be added to Hyundai's already impressive lineup of 2019 models that is one of the freshest in the auto industry. We had a chance to sit down with Hyundai Vice President of Product Planning, Mike O'Brien to discuss some of the company's goals for the future.

Hyundai has already been executing a product onslaught over the past 12 months which includes 10 all-new or facelifted models. As it turns out, Hyundai is "still not done with [its] SUV rollout," according to O'Brien. "We still have yet another all-new category and all-new product we've never sold still coming. We just showed Palisade but we have another one coming."

So what is this mystery model? When asked about which segment Hyundai was looking to enter, O'Brien mentioned that "in the US, there are nearly 50 million used car transactions every year and over a quarter of those people tried to buy a new car - they didn't have enough credit, enough down payment, or their trade-in value wasn't enough." Clearly, Hyundai believes there is still a need for an SUV priced under the already affordable $19,990 Kona.

"There's still a tremendous market potential even under our Kona," said O'Brien. Hyundai recently trademarked the name 'Leonis' in the US, so perhaps this could be the name for this mystery sub-Kona crossover. We assumed any crossover below the Kona would be too small for US consumers but O'Brien said "in Europe, there are categories below what's available in the US but people are the same size. There is an opportunity available at a lower price point." Affordability is clearly an issue high on Hyundai's priority list.

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Another potential model Hyundai could introduce is a pickup truck. Back in 2015, Hyundai revealed a stylish concept called the Sante Cruz. According to O'Brien, "it's still one of the most talked about concepts on social media. We get letters about it every day." In our conversation, O'Brien wanted to ensure us that if Hyundai were to build a pickup truck, it would have to be different than what is on the market.

"The easiest way to develop a competitive product is to do what someone else has already done. Anyone can do that. Of course, Nissan did it with the Titan. It's tough when you go head-to-head in an entrenched market with a century of lineage and a century of brand building," said O'Brien.

To enter the US truck market, Hyundai could potentially borrow principles from other markets. "In the rest of the world, cab-overs are what they have - the word payload has so much more meaning. Every inch of the truck should be generating income. The bed is only one-third of the truck so two-thirds aren't generating income." In the US, trucks are massive and can cumbersome to drive in city environments.

Clearly, Hyundai is interested in building a smaller segment of pickup truck. "Things are changing, we have to improve fuel economy. Younger people are moving into urban environments and the only way to park a pickup truck is to back it in," said O'Brien. Parking a truck is extremely difficult and "all the cameras in the world can't erase that." While we didn't get confirmation that the Sante Cruz is ready for production, O'Brien's excitement at a smaller pickup model that could sit below trucks like the Colorado, Tacoma, and even the recently revealed Jeep Gladiator gave us hope something is in the works.

Even when discussing the current truck market, it was easy to see O'Brien light up when talking about the opportunity for a new entrant. "You see the Tacoma still sitting at the same market share even with all these new entrants coming. There's no market being ceded. There's all the signals in the market for opportunity for something else - we're going to do something." said O'Brien. We hope Hyundai is able to pull it all together and offer up a production version of the Sante Cruz.

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