Hyundai Australia keen for “good looking” HiLux rival, CX-3 challenger

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A tough, “good looking” dual-cab ute and a small/sub-compact SUV are key models that Hyundai Australia is keen to see roll into showrooms in the coming years, according the local division’s public relations head.

Speaking exclusively with CarAdvice, Hyundai Australia public relations general manager Bill Thomas said a possible South Korean rival to those in the Toyota HiLux-dominated ute segment “could do quite well”, were one to reach our shores.

“If you imagine a well-made, good looking Hyundai ute… it’ll work,” Thomas said.

“We’ve got a track record with iLoad where customers are appreciating Hyundai commercials. It’s not really a commercial vehicle, I guess, a ute, but it’s got that sort of toughness – it needs strength and reliability.

“And I think a really smart Hyundai dual-cab ute would be something that the market would like, but it’s not our [Hyundai Australia’s] call to make in terms of when or if that gets planned, or where it gets designed and made.

“It’s a huge commitment to start a model line like that and it’s really not our call but we’ve got both hands, both legs and both feet up in the air, just saying we would take it if it was made.”

He added that, ideally, any new Hyundai ute for Australia would be focused more on being a ‘hard-working’ pick-up with legitimate payload and towing credentials, rather than a softer ‘lifestyle’ proposition.

While a yet-to-be-confirmed production version of the Santa Cruz concept (unveiled at the 2015 Detroit motor show) is a good fit for the US market, Australia might be a different story.

“It’s not necessarily the ideal ute for us,” Thomas said.

“The Big Three (General Motors, Dodge and Ford) dominate the pick-up sector over there, so Santa Cruz fits in its own niche. If you look at our market, HiLux does very well, so do the other rivals, and it’s more of a working vehicle, whereas Santa Cruz is more of a lifestyle city runabout.

“[It’s] still really good looking and if it did get made and it got approved, than we’d certainly look at it. There’s no point ruling these things out… but ideally for our market it would be a working vehicle with competitive load-carrying and towing ability.”

A utility isn’t the only range gap the Australian arm is looking to fill. With the fresh arrival of the Hyundai Tucson, the brand has swapped its ix35 small SUV with a larger mid-sized replacement, leaving the highly competitive small-SUV space empty.

And while the Indian-built Creta – a twin to the Chinese-market ix25 – neatly fills the gap in overseas markets, Thomas says the model is “a car that we almost certainly won’t take”.

Specifically citing doubts on the car’s likelihood of achieving a local five-star ANCAP safety rating, as well as specification and other technical matters, Thomas said the vehicle is “more appropriate for other markets”.

“It’s not quite what we’re after for the Australian market, so we’re waiting for the European version of the car, which is due in about two years,” Thomas said.

“It’s important to stress that it’s a safe vehicle and not in any way deficient, but the information that we have is that it probably wouldn’t reach five stars with the local ANCAP test.”

That said, Thomas acknowledged that the way the market is going, Hyundai will need a small/sub-compact SUV in the coming years.

“Absolutely. I mean, we’ve seen [the Mazda] CX-3 and other small SUVs like [the Honda] HRV doing really well. Again [as in the ute], if you are going to say there’s a hole in our range, that’s a pretty key one.”

Asked whether two years for a new sub-compact SUV is too long a wait for the brand, Thomas said, “It’s not ideal, but it is what it is.”

“We’re maybe a little bit behind but it’s something we think will sell very well when we get it.”

Despite the line-up shortfalls, the start of this month saw Hyundai officially claim third spot in the yearly sales race from Holden, with year-to-date sales until the end of August climbing to 68,115 units (613 units ahead of Holden’s 67,502).

“It’s a funny one because it’s not discussed a lot internally,” Thomas said of the podium achievement.

“We don’t really look at the leader board too much and, though it might sound a little bit strange to say it, the focus is on hitting our own targets and meeting our objectives rather than ‘beating’ the other manufacturers. So that leader board is not something we focus on.”

One of those objectives is to cover the imminent wind-up of the outgoing first-generation i20 light car (pictured above) with a more sharply priced Accent.

Reportedly confirmed as a no-go for our market back in July, Thomas told CarAdvice that the second-generation i20 (pictured below) is “not absolutely ruled out” but simply “too difficult” to bring here at this stage based on global currency rates.

“It’s just not possible at the moment with the exchange rate where it is,” Thomas said.

“So you can speculate about, well, ‘we’re keen to do this and we’re keen to do that’, but the business case doesn’t add up.

“We can’t really source i20 out of Europe, the exchange rate is too much against us on that vehicle – especially as it needs to hit such a sharp price point to be competitive.”

Doubt also surrounds the long overdue next-generation Genesis coupe – the rear-wheel-drive sports car “confirmed for Australia” back in 2011 – with Thomas saying, “It’s just a little early to say on how that car’s going to go.”

“It’ll be a question of whether it’s built in right-hand drive. Just a bit too early to say…”

What Hyundai models are you crying out for? A ute, a small SUV or something else? Tell us in the comments section below.