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Why Hyundai Will Build the Santa Cruz Pickup

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Why Hyundai Will Build the Santa Cruz Pickup

A Hyundai pickup truck was one of this year’s big surprises at the Detroit Auto Show and while it might be a concept it’s far closer to becoming a reality than anyone might have guessed.

“We’re very anxious to do something with the idea,” Mike O’Brien, Hyundai Motor America’s VP of product planning said.

According to O’Brien the Santa Cruz concept is the result of 18 months of planning and isn’t just a fancy model. In fact, everything about it is very real.

“The engineering feasibility work has been done,” he said, commenting that it’s based on an existing crossover platform.

That platform is likely the very same one that underpins the Tucson and O’Brien admits that the trucks specs are, “very similar to a sub-compact CUV.” What that means is that he expects a tow rating between 1,500 to 2,500 lbs, so it can tow anything from a jet ski to a pop-up trailer.

SEE ALSO: Hyundai to Improve Fuel Economy 25% by 2020

Hyundai currently doesn’t offer any diesels in North America, but that could very well change with the introduction of the Santa Cruz. “This particular platform could have the diesel shown which is in production today,” said O’Brien. That engine is a 2.0-liter turbo delivering 190 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque.

While O’Brien said Hyundai has a wide variety of powertrains that could work in this platform application, “The diesel is the most promising because of the fuel economy it delivers.”

Surprisingly, it’s also what customers are demanding. “It best matches in our research of what these customers are looking for,” said O’Brien. “Outstanding fuel economy, good torque and good driveability.”

He also thinks a diesel is the right fit in terms of the concept behind the truck. “It gives it a sense of durability and ruggedness.”

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In addition, high-MPG diesels are becoming a necessity as automakers strive to meet increasingly strict government mandated corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) targets. O’Brien explained that while Hyundai is committed to the CAFE target of 54 mpg by 2025, “We won’t do that with the current product mix.”

He said that in order to achieve that goal two things need to happen. The first is improved technology by automakers. The second is a migration from truck category vehicles to car category vehicles. However, “The opposite is happening,” said O’Brien, noting the growth in popularity of crossovers.

To force the switch to fuel efficient models and products with fuel efficient engines he suggests the Santa Cruz as a “countermeasure,” offering fuel economy in the the high 30s but with truck utility.

Specifically, the freedom of an open bed is something O’Brien said younger buyers are eager for. They’re fans of compact crossovers, but in Hyundai’s research they don’t want to mix their interior space with their outdoor toys. “This idea of some open bed utility just keeps growing in terms of interest,” he said.

SEE ALSO: 2nd Generation Hyundai Veloster Confirmed

“It’s always harder to do something that doesn’t exist. But think about it; CUVs didn’t exist 10 years ago. It really took one or two manufacturers to just say ‘let’s try it out an see what happens.'”

O’Brien did caution that Hyundai has made no decision on the Santa Cruz just yet, though he certainly outlined all of the reasons that it will more than likely move ahead with it. Based on an existing platform, “It really helps mange the cost of engineering, helping us make it a competitively priced product.”

The introduction of the Santa Cruz could help Hyundai double the number of models based on the same architecture. It already sells 50,000 Tucsons per year in the U.S. “We think this product would certainly be that or better,” O’Brien said.

GALLERY: Hyundai Santa Cruz

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