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Cars the Philippines should get: Hyundai Santa Cruz

Hyundai Motor Company was founded in 1967, which means that the South Korean carmaker is turning 52 years old this year – old enough to have grandchildren but not too old to get exempted from long lines in supermarkets. However, it wasn’t until 1975 since Hyundai made its own car to precede the Ford-developed Hyundai Cortina. Since then, Hyundai has been known to make cars and crossover, and some performance models, as well as buses and trucks for commercial use.

But there’s one vehicle type that Hyundai is yet to make to fortify its global offensive strategy further – a pickup truck.

This, however, doesn’t mean that Hyundai isn’t toying with the idea of having a pickup truck in its lineup. Hyundai gave birth to the Santa Cruz pickup concept in 2015 at the Detroit Motor Show, which previewed the marque’s plan to enter the pickup truck segment. It was a futuristic concept, which you can see here.

The Santa Cruz pickup concept doesn’t carry a typical truck configuration, though – at least not here in the Philippines. Locally available pickup trucks – such as the Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux, Mitsubishi Strada, among others – are built on a robust ladder-frame chassis to combine a truck’s utilitarian nature and current lifestyle trend.

The Hyundai pickup truck concept begged to differ. Built on a unibody chassis with a short bed, angular C-pillar, short rear doors, and alienating design, the Santa Cruz concept stood its ground as a futuristic addition to Hyundai’s lineup, which made people wonder if the design study will ever make it to production.

Alas, after a few years of brewing, Hyundai gave the green light to produce the Santa Cruz pickup at its Alabama manufacturing plant in the United States. There’s just one caveat, though – the Santa Cruz will be exclusively sold in the American market.

Why should the Philippines get the Hyundai Santa Cruz?

Just like its neighboring countries like Thailand and Australia, the Philippine market conjures a steep competition in the pickup truck segment. In fact, online car buying site reported that interest for pickup trucks didn’t wane during the start of the coronavirus pandemic here in the country based on the number of inquiries. This tells us that pickups are retaining their popularity that started three to four years back, and people are still interested in buying a relatively outdoor-ish truck regardless of being holed inside their houses during the Luzon-wide imposed lockdown. If you don’t see the irony there, read that last sentence again.

But Filipinos don’t really buy pickup trucks to use as workhorses or even as off-roading toys during the weekends. Most Filipino car buyers consider pickup trucks because of their relatively affordable price tag due to fortunate tax exemptions.

For example, for less than a million pesos, an aspiring pickup truck owner can already buy a base Nissan Navara. Mid-variant pickup trucks normally range from P1.1-million to P1.3-million, which makes pickup trucks an attractive choice for buyers who want a massive and authoritative vehicle in their garage. This tells us that pickup trucks these days are more inclined to serve as lifestyle or status symbols rather than workhorses they’re primarily built for.

Lifestyle trucks, as they now call this new breed of pickups, is the new trend, and that’s where the Hyundai Santa Cruz would nicely fit into. With unibody construction and aesthetics fit for urban explorers, Hyundai’s first attempt to enter the pickup truck fray would more likely pique the interest of Filipino car buyers. But then again, that would depend on how Hyundai would position the model in terms of pricing. As we all know, car buyers’ interest goes hand in hand with prices.

Unfortunately, Hyundai has confirmed that the Santa Cruz, which will be produced by 2021, will be for the U.S. market only. For now, all we can do is hope that Hyundai will change its mind but all hopes aren’t lost. Remember that the seven-seater Subaru Ascent was supposed to be for the U.S. market exclusively, but Motor Image Pilipinas Inc. decided to import the vehicle for the Philippine market as the Evoltis. So, really, there’s a chance.

And by the way, just in case the idea of a unibody truck irks you, Hyundai is reportedly developing another truck with a ladder-frame chassis to take on the usual midsize pickups globally. However, information about that truck is scarce at this point, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Jacob Oliva

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