Commentary: A New Segment We Have Seen Before

What dreams do we have left?

This is a question I often contemplated for decades. It comes from the fear that once I accomplished “everything” that there is nothing left to do.  

This career began as I turned 37 years old. Traditionally, that used to be seen as “too old” to start a career. 

However, it is never too old for anything, really. An old friend from Los Angeles just got married again. He’s probably 59 or 60 years old. I rarely keep tabs on birthdays, unless it pops up on my social media feeds. 

The point of this train of thought is that you are never too old to get excited about working with a vehicle or write a story that excites you. 

When the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz was unveiled on April 15, my jaw dropped. 

For those of you who are not in the “know,” the Santa Cruz was introduced as a concept at the Chicago Auto Show in 2015. It took a while for it to go from concept to production, but it appears to be worth it. 

Hyundai stated that the Santa Cruz runs in its own segment. It’s neither a pickup truck nor an SUV. Rather, a “sports adventure vehicle” with a secure open bed. 

The Santa Cruz is built off a fused platform with the 2022 Tucson and the current Santa Fe. That explains why it has a trucklet look and a bit more capability in these launch images. Power comes from either a naturally aspirated 190-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine or a 270-plus horsepower turbocharged version of that same motor. Both transmissions – a torque-converter automatic and a dual clutch transmission – have eight speeds with available all-wheel-drive.

The secure open bed is a rather nifty bit of kit. You can open it up, like a truck bed. Or, you can scroll the tonneau cover to close it up. You also have a hidden storage cubby that is inside the bed – just like a Honda Ridgeline. The bed is integrated to a “crew cab” – more of a four-door body with a bed attached. 

I bring up the Honda Ridgeline, because it is the closest thing in the marketplace to the Santa Cruz. The only problem is that Honda has positioned its unibody mid-size pickup truck to its other body-on-frame rivals from General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Stellantis, and Nissan. 

However, I still question Hyundai’s claim to have created an “entirely new vehicle category.” In fact, we have seen this type of vehicle before. 

For example, I’m old enough to remember the Chevrolet El Camino and the Ford Ranchero. Plus, the Volkswagen Rabbit pickup and the Subaru BRAT. You could still recall the Subaru Baja. Some of you global folks know this vehicle as a “ute” or “bakke.” Nissan had a Sunny pickup in South Africa, while Malaysia produced the Proton Jumbuck. Let’s not forget about the iconic Australian utes from Holden, Ford, and Chrysler. 

In actuality Hyundai did not create an “entirely new vehicle category.” They’re resurrecting it. 

Think about it. Pickup trucks continue to rake profits for its manufacturers. SUVs continue to dominate the automotive marketplace. Hyundai is on a roll in terms of product and corporate excellence. Since the once-compact pickup trucks have grown to mid-size proportions, a smaller truck at a lower price point have been on the consumer’s want-list for decades. 

Truck consumers are using them more for recreation than work. The smaller the truck, the more owners will use them for play. The Santa Cruz fills this void perfectly, as it was designed as a “sports adventure vehicle” instead of a tow rig or work truck. 

Will we see more of this kind of vehicle in the future? Ford is finalizing their sub-Ranger pickup truck that has been named the Maverick by many media outlets. Some of the images that have been leaked of this vehicle appear to be more of a conventional truck design than something along the lines of the Santa Cruz – or the Subaru Baja. 

Still, I think Hyundai got this down. I hope that younger generations will embrace, as their own. Not just urbanites and suburbanites, but those in rural communities looking for a fun adventure vehicle small enough to not get stuck somewhere – like their buddies and their bro-dozers. 

Granted, I did not travel to Tucson, Arizona to see this unveiling live, along with driving the new 2022 Tucson. There’s plenty of my colleagues who have. I did catch the video where they added green screen augmented reality backgrounds, which was perhaps the most COVID-safe to do. Still, my jaw dropped. Not because it was fresh and cool. 

It was because we were asking for such a vehicle for years after the demise of the Subaru Baja. This summer, we will be rewarded at the local Hyundai dealer. 

I am definitely looking forward to working with one later this year. Or, at least seeing one “in the flesh.” After all, you’re never too old to drive something made for a person 20 or so years younger than I. 

It could be all a dream…

All photos courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

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