Hyundai will make its Santa Cruz pickup cars at the Alabama plant in 2021

Hyundai confirms that the first pickup, Santa Cruz, will be put on production at the plant in Alabama in 2021.

Hyundai handout

After an unexpectedly long delay, Hyundai has given the speed to build a new compact pickup, a version of the Santa Cruz concept from the Detroit Auto Show in 2015 at the Montgomery, Alabama collection facility.

Finding a place to build Santa Cruz was one of the biggest challenges that delayed the project, according to a senior Hyundai official. The carmaker will spend $ 41[ads1]0 million to expand the Montgomery plant, which in recent years has struggled to keep up with demand for Hyundai products such as the recently remodeled Santa Fe SUV. Adding Santa Cruz will create 200 direct jobs at the plant and an additional 1,000 for regional suppliers, the Korean car manufacturer said Wednesday.

If Santa Cruz were built today, it would be the smallest pickup on the market. With that, several Hyundai officials have said they hope to recreate at least some of the success classic compact trucks, such as 1970s Chevrolet Luv, had attracted first-time buyers of baby boomers.

Pickups, by and large, make up a massive segment of the US car market with three full-size models: the Ford F-150, the Chevrolet Silverado and the Ram 1500 that top the sales charts year after year. Medium-sized models like the Toyota Tacoma, had lost momentum since the 1980s, but began rebounding early this decade with the launch of new offerings such as the Chevy Colorado and, more recently, the Jeep Gladiator.

But it was the now abandoned compact truck segment that proved very popular when boomers got their first set of wheels, models such as Luv proved to be robust, affordable and cheap to operate. Hyundai Santa Cruz hopes to use a similar audience, even though it is positioned as "more of a lifestyle, urban commuter car," said the leader with Hyundai Motor America, than a rugged product that goes everywhere.

That's because it will be based on a car-like crossover platform, rather than a traditional, body-on-frame truck chassis. Just another pickup uses this approach, the big Honda Ridgeline.

"They can lose something," Stephanie Brinley, car analyst at IHS Automotive told CNBC.

But how successful Santa Cruz will be depends on several factors, including prices and Hyundai's own volume targets, Brinley said, warning that if the truck gets somewhere in the low $ 20,000, it could have a large audience, "but if it ends up at $ 34,000, it won't be the kind of vehicle that appeals to a college kid," as the multi-decade compact trucks once did.

Hyundai Santa Cruz Rear View


Hyundai has not said what kind of numbers it is rifle for, but Brinley said she did not think hitting 30,000 a year would be a problem.

One of the questions is whether the Korean carmaker has been waiting too long to bring Santa Cruz to market. The company's insiders said it will probably take at least another 18 months before it can go into production, which will mean more than six years after the concept debuted too much recognition at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

"We have so much on our plate (and) there were other priorities in recent years," for example, mainstream models such as the latest Santa Fe, a ranked Hyundai insider said on Wednesday afternoon. "One of the big challenges was figuring out where we could build it."

Another question is whether the production footage will retain the unique bed extension that could stretch the load bed by more than one extra foot when needed. The company's insiders just wanted to tell CNBC that potential buyers "can expect to see something different with the tailgate."

Just as the slowly fading temporary truck market rebounded spectacularly over the past five years, the compact segment could also rebound, especially if Hyundai is showing some success. Ford has already said it is working on an even smaller model than the mid-size Ranger nameplate it revived last year. Volkswagen showed off a possible compact model in concept form at the New York International Auto Show in April last year, and Brinley said she would also expect the Fiat brand to play in the segment as well.

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