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Hyundai’s Santa Cruz truck seems a shoo-in for production, but will buyers bite?

Hyundai Santa Cruz front angle
When it comes to pickup trucks, the name Hyundai doesn’t immediately spring to mind. That’s why the Korean firm’s Santa Cruz truck was one of the most surprising concept vehicles of last year. And now it appears Hyundai wants to put it into production.

“Our timing is not crossing our fingers and waiting for approval, it’s trying to figure out when we’re going to announce it,” Hyundai U.S. boss Dave Zuchowski told Australia’s Motoring in an interview at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show. He indicated the U.S. market will be the priority, which makes sense, given that sales of trucks have always been stronger here than anywhere else.

And it’s a particularly good time for midsize trucks like the Santa Cruz. The segment was dead just a couple of years ago, but redesigned models including the Toyota Tacoma and the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon twins have reanimated it, and buyers seem to be responding. The 2017 Honda Ridgeline also debuted in Detroit, and would likely be the Santa Cruz’s most direct rival.

Like the Honda, the Santa Cruz concept is based on a car-like unibody. It was designed more as an alternative to crossovers rather than a direct competitor to traditional body-on-frame trucks. This construction yields refinements in areas like ride quality and reduces weight, but at the expense of towing capacity and off-road ability. It’s not unheard of for consumers to trade crossovers for trucks, though, so this approach may work for Hyundai.

When it debuted at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, the Santa Cruz concept packed a 2.0-liter turbo-diesel engine with 190 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, which Hyundai said was capable of fuel economy in the “high 30-mpg range.” It also used the HTRAC all-wheel drive system from Hyundai’s production cars and crossovers. If that package translates to production, the Santa Cruz will definitely be more comfortable on road than off.

But that’s probably the idea. When it launched the concept last year, Hyundai said the Santa Cruz was intended for millennial “Urban Adventurers.” Those aren’t typical pickup buyers, and whether they’ll bite is as big of a mystery as whether Hyundai can pull off a production truck in the first place.

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