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Hyundai Tells Us It's Found A Secret New Truck Formula

Interview / 8 Comments

But it shouldn't be a secret anymore.

Five years ago, Hyundai revealed the car-based Santa Cruz truck concept here in Detroit. A production version has yet to arrive, but this doesn't mean it's not happening. Instead, the South Korean automaker has been carefully studying the US pickup truck market right under our noses, analyzing consumer data and trying to figure out whether there's a truck segment that's been left untouched. Turns out there is one.

We sat down with Hyundai vice president of product Mike O'Brien at this year's Detroit Auto Show and inquired about the status of the rumored truck. "Go to any Toyota store and go to the head of pre-owned or used and ask them which car sits on the lot for the least amount of time when it comes in for trade. Tacomas," O'Brien said.

"They can barely hose them off. Tacomas don't sit there. It's a complete signal for one simple thing: there's a market for something below Tacoma. There's a lot of customers who wish they can have a Tacoma but can't afford a new one."

Does this mean Hyundai is developing a body-on-frame small pickup of its own? Nope. Why not? Because it's simply not necessary.

"Remember since the very first Jeep Grand Cherokee, they've all been unibody, not body-on-frame. Most customers are not wrapped up on whether things have a frame or not a frame. So the question is how do you give someone an open bed utility in a new way?"

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Now, you might immediately start thinking about a certain other unibody pickup truck on sale right now, the Honda Ridgeline, and you'd be right. But here's the thing: it's more expensive than a Tacoma. A new 2019 Tacoma begins at around $26,000 while the Ridgeline goes for at least $30,000. "The Ridgeline doesn't really serve people who are looking for something more garage friendly and more affordable. Think about an urban lifestyle, those who will never use a gooseneck trailer, never haul a 10,000-pound trailer," he said.

"Today, people want to live in the middle of a city where there are fewer and smaller parking spots and they want to get out of town on the weekends for an adventure and will be returning with muddy gear they wouldn't want to put in the rear seat of a conventional crossover." In short, Hyundai believes there's a space in the market for an affordable, unibody, small pickup truck with just the right size bed space for younger buyers.

"There's a big market opportunity that nobody has touched yet."