Caught up with my old mate Ian Crawford a couple of weeks ago.
Crawf had been leafing through some old clippings and came across a story he wrote more than a decade ago suggesting that Hyundai might consider adding a ute to its burgeoning lineup.
A former motoring editor of the Canberra Times, Crawf headed up PR for BHP back in the day and created the award-winning corporate campaign that coined the phrase ‘The big Australian‘ — as the first sponsor of a then untried 60 Minutes television program.
He knows his stuff.
Crawf likes to think the story he wrote back in 2011 about Hyundai adding a ute to the lineup planted the seeds that led to the Hyundai Santa Cruz and soon to be released Kia Tasman utilities, the latter due to arrive sometime in 2025.
There’s also a couple of hybrid/electric-powered utes in development.
Disappointingly, the Hyundai Santa Cruz, released last year, is car-based and built only in left-hand drive which means it will not be coming here.
Kia has however confirmed it finally has a ute on the way, but has not revealed any details at this stage, apart from the fact it will be “fit for purpose”.
Dealers have been told in confidence the Tasman will be a proper dual-cab utility, with a ladder chassis, 3500kg tow capacity and the ability to carry a one tonne payload.
Car-based, left-hand drive only Hyundai Santa Cruz released in 2022.
Crawf reports the story went something like this . . .
“Back in 2011 I was in Seoul, courtesy of Hyundai, as one of a small group of Australian motoring journalists.
We were there to test drive a couple of the company’s soon-to-released models and visit the Hyundai/Kia group’s marvellous and super-impressive Namyang research and development centre.
It covers an 350-hectare site about 40km southwest of Seoul.
Hyundai Australia’s PR people had arranged for us to have an audience with the then “great man” – company global president and CEO Steve S Yang.
During a somewhat subdued media conference, I asked Yang whether a Hilux-like single-cab and or/dual-cab style utility were under consideration by his company’s product-planning people.
I remember pointing out that at the time the global dual-cab segment alone was a 2 million unit market.
While it was dominated by the Japanese brands, even Volkswagen had seen the potential of adding its just-released (at the time) Amarok to its model line-up.
Interestingly, back in 2011 and maybe still today, you didn’t see any Hilux, Nissan Navara or Mitsubishi Triton utes on Korean roads.
One overwhelming reason for this is that Koreans are fiercely loyal to home-grown brands and we were told then that they represented more than 90 per cent of total annual vehicle sales.
Pity Australia wasn’t like that in the latter years of our market . . . but that’s another story.
That said, there was no shortage of small delivery vans and light trucks buzzing everywhere around Seoul and surrounding areas.
I quickly became convinced that dual- and single-cab utes would sell their socks off in Korea, especially if they wore a Hyundai or Kia badge – not to mention Australia, South Africa, other parts of Asia and South America.
Getting a response from Yang was a somewhat ponderous process, partly because an interpreter was involved.
At first Yang thought the vehicles I was referring to were those mega US utes like the Ram and Ford’s F250 that are currently walking off showroom floors in Australia.
Finally, the great man realised the kind of vehicles to which I was referring.
“We would need to sell 100,000 units to get into this segment and at the moment I don’t think it’s for us,” he said.
Yang added that 100,000 was the figure that Hyundai was shooting for with the then just-released and now withdrawn Veloster three-door coupe.
Returning to Australia and writing my piece for CarsGuide I pointed out that Hyundai certainly did not have a shortage of excellent engines by which to power a ute – especially turbo-diesels.
At time the iLoad van ran a 2.5-litre double-overhead-cam common-rail ‘oiler’ with 125kW of power and handy 392Nm of torque that was on tap between 2000 and 2500 rpm.
In the petrol iLoad, the engine of choice was a 2.0-litre unit with 129kW and 228Nm at 4200 rpm.
Then there was the ix35 compact SUV with its 2.0-litre turbo-diesel with 135kW at 4000 rpm and the same 392Nm of torque produced by the iLoad’s version — but with the ix35 it was on tap between 1800 and 2600 rpm.
Undoubtedly the best engine option at the time for a Hyundai or Kia ute was the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel that was under the bonnet of the Santa Fe SUV.
It was good for a maximum 145kW of power and when mated with a manual gearbox, it delivered 421Nm of torque.
Opt for the six-speed automatic and this rose to 436Nm – way ahead of the 2011 VW Amarok’s 400Nm.
I closed my 2011 Hyundai ute story with the following:
“With all this engine fire power – especially in the diesel department – and its engineering clout and build quality, we and Hyundai’s Australian dealers can only hope that one day, we see the booming Korean brand’s badge adorn a ute.”
But the story didn’t end there and this is where Riley (one of the CarsGuide team at the time) and now my clever Cars4starters managing editor, comes into the picture — literally.
To illustrate the story, he had the bright idea of “photoshopping” or adding the body of a ute behind the rear doors of a Santa Fe.
We called it, rather cheekily, the iLux.
Well, that story (or more likely the iLux photo) caused something of a sensation within Hyundai Australia and its dealers.
Both were desperate to add a ute to their model line-up.
Mates inside Hyundai Australia told me they were thrilled to be able to send the “clipping” to Seoul to help strengthen their pro-ute case.
“Something of a sensation” was apparently replicated in Seoul.
Riley and I hoped so.
It’s taken quite a while but it appears Kia, with its new Tasman ute, will beat its Hyundai big brother to the punch.
But maybe our story, published nationally on July 5, 2011, helped in some small way to make it all happen.
Spy shots of the ‘game-changing’ Kia Tasman due in 2025.