By on November 14, 2019

2015 Hyundai Santa Cruz Concept - Image: Hyundai

Think back to early 2015. January, to be exact. The world was nearly five years younger, and social media was less of a scourge. Far fewer grey hairs polluted this writer’s temples, his cynicism was still manageable, and the unlikely star of the Detroit International Auto Show happened to be a unique unibody pickup from Hyundai.

The Santa Cruz Concept unveiled at that show (seen above for the umpteenth time) employed clamshell doors for access to a tight backseat and a bed that straddled the line between Colorado and Baja. Boasting a modern, eye-catching body, it positioned itself as a youthful, entry-level activity vehicle for those with little interest in the size and expense of a larger, traditional pickup.

Nearly five years later, the Santa Cruz is finally, officially headed for production.

The decision to bring the concept to fruition was clearly not a light one to make; Hyundai brass reportedly sat on the fence for some time. For sure, we’ve been reporting on its limbo status for years, though in the past couple of annums the company has provided almost ironclad hints that it would eventually see the light of day.

Late Wednesday, the automaker made its intentions clear.

Production begins in Montgomery, Alabama in 2021, Hyundai said. The new addition to its lone American assembly plant will cost the automaker $410 million and deliver 200 new workers for the UAW to chase after.

After a post-recession sales surge, the brand’s American momentum tapered off, then shifted into reverse as the crossover craze left Hyundai scrambling for more sure-fire product to tempt cargo-conscious buyers. With those models now in production, it seems the coast is clear for a slightly more daring member of the Hyundai family.

2015 Hyundai Santa Cruz Crossover Truck Concept - Image: Hyundai

It’s interesting that Hyundai’s announcement doesn’t contain the word “pickup.” Indeed, the automaker provides only a vague description of the production-bound model, referring to it as a “crossover” and a “compact utility vehicle.”

From Hyundai:

Santa Cruz is for those who want all the traditional attributes of a compact utility vehicle, but need the day-to-day versatility of an open bed. It’s the crossover that creates a whole new segment that successfully combines capability and utility to meet the unspoken needs of a new generation of buyers, especially Millennials.

Little is known about what form the CUV-with-a-bed will take, but don’t expect to see a close copy of the now-dated concept. Design head SangYup Lee has said the production vehicle will take on a more contemporary look. Beneath it will be a platform used by an existing product — perhaps that of the Tucson, which sees a new generation arrive for 2021.

And those nifty doors? Don’t bet the farm on seeing them appear on the Montgomery assembly line.

[Images: Hyundai]

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34 Comments on “Not a Rash Decision: Hyundai Greenlights Santa Cruz Pickup for 2021...”

  • avatar

    Well… at least the styling will be unanimously popular.

  • avatar

    Hyundai Greenlights Santa Cruz Pickup for 2021 or 2022 or 2023…

  • avatar

    So…an “open bed, compact utility vehicle?” Sounds like a pick-up to me. Of course, marketing…

    • 0 avatar

      Here’s why they won’t call it a truck.

    • 0 avatar

      @FerrariLaFerrariFace: Interesting. That’s 1000# more than my ’97 Ranger could tow. I guess it is a truck after all.

  • avatar

    – The bed floor is at about the right height.

    – The bed might be as large as what remains in a crew cab short bed after installing the truck tool box (or is that still a thing?).

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I’m a buyer of the concept and it’ll be in its second year of production when I am able to buy it. If they can somehow resist the urge to ruin it and turn it into a Ridgeline, I am absolutely going to put my money where my mouth is. But, like the last couple paragraphs state, the concept will not be going into production. 4 full doors? I don’t want it. Contemporary styling? I don’t like the sound of that.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Wonderful news for the 7 people that have been eagerly awaiting this model

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    I’ve been excited about this since I first saw it, but it has been damn long in coming. The 2021 start date sounds promising but I’m a little concerned about the “contemporary look.”

    Hyundai has done some good work on their recent sedans and their SUVs look pretty well so maybe, just maybe, they’ll be able to pull this off but I could see this getting out of hand pretty easily.

    Count me as a “wait and see.”

  • avatar

    I’d reserve judgement until it actually appears.

    What engine? What transmissions? What 4wd/AWD system?

    And one last wrench to throw in there – wouldn’t this be more appropriate as a Kia?

  • avatar

    I don’t know why everyone isn’t making the easily direct comparison to the Ridgeline. It’s unpopular, has an unlovable setup, and it’s direct competition is the minivan.

    This has a 0% chance of being a 2 door, a 30% chance of being extended cab, a 60% chance of being priced in direct competition with the actually capable Frontier, and a 100% chance of failure. The odd design in particular would be a huge turn off to many would be buyers.

    • 0 avatar

      @Hummer: Funny thing about the Ridgeline by Honda; the people who OWN one won’t let it go. That’s why you still see a lot of first-generation Ridgelines on the road, despite their almost complete redesign about four years ago.

      • 0 avatar

        Funny thing is I see 300x as many F150, Silverado, Rangers, S10s, Frontiers, Dakotas, Tacoma’s and Rams, many over 25 years old still going strong. I probably see more el caminos still on the road than I see Ridgelines.

        There’s a market for compact trucks, this however is not what those Ranger, S10 owners were waiting to trade for.

        The Venn Diagram of people that have cut up their Geo Metro to make a makeshift truck, and people willing to actually buy (let alone afford) the concept new for $18,000 is pretty small.

        • 0 avatar

          @Hummer: It’s a regional thing. I see more Ridgelines than I see any of the car-based pickups, which is a pity because I really LIKE the car-based pickups. FAR more Ridgelines, in fact.

          And yes, there is a market for compact trucks–more than most want to believe, even if not as many as full sized. The current run of mid-sized trucks are only doing as well as they are BECAUSE there’s nothing smaller–truly compact–available.

          I can pretty well guarantee that a huge chunk of the CUV market, I’d guess 33%, would go to compact pickups as long as they were only marginally longer than their existing vehicle. A lot of people are buying CUVs because they want the cargo capacity rather than the passenger capacity.

          I, for one, am quite satisfied with part-time second row seating and far prefer full-time load capability.

          And if someone were to give me a three-row vehicle of ANY type, I would immediately trade it for something more useful… like a Wrangler or Gladiator.

    • 0 avatar

      while the “The odd design in particular would be a huge turn off to many would be buyers. I also think The odd design in particular will be a huge turn on to actual buyers.

  • avatar

    Now if only they’d made this decision 5 years ago; I’d be driving one now.

  • avatar

    Is this theoretically more useful than a Baja was? Ranchero? El Camino? Rampage?

    I could be intrigued to see them on the street. Something about this size would be about as trucklike as I’d ever need.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    If they made this just like the concept and offered it as an extended cab with a 5 or 6 speed manual even if the manual were offered in a front wheel drive only I would still be interested (I doubt they would make this a rear wheel drive since this will probably be based on a Hyundai cuv). I don’t really need or want a crew cab and would rather have a smaller more nimble size. I hope I am wrong but I fear they will mess this truck up and make it another Ridgeline.

  • avatar

    I’d be in if it has a manual and AWD and gets over 30mpg. If it gets bad mileage it better be sporty

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    AWD would not be bad unless they priced it too high and made it too large. I don’t want to see another Ridgeline, not that the Ridgeline is a bad vehicle but it would be good to have a true compact pickup with a useable bed. I also don’t want it to have a CVT or a double clutch automatic–it would be nice if a manual were offered as well as an automatic. Build it like this concept model and I might be interested.

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