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Hyundai Santa Cruz ute confirmed: Why it's NOT the Toyota HiLux slayer you've been waiting for

Production of the Hyundai Santa Cruz will officially commence in 2021, some six years after the concept vehicle was first displayed at the Detroit Motor Show. Yes, Hyundai's "compact utility vehicle" has at last been green lit, with production to begin in Alabama next year.

“Bringing the Santa Cruz to HMMA demonstrates that Hyundai Motor Company is confident our more than 3000 team members are ready to build a quality crossover for the U.S. market,” says the president and CEO of Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, Byungjin Jin.

The Santa Cruz, which is expected to be based on the Tucson, is being pitched as an alternative to an SUV, and Hyundai is targeting millennial buyers aged under 30. It makes up for its fairly diminutive size and cargo area with a tailgate extension that adds to the tray space, while the "hidden" rear doors - in concept form, at least - were hinged at the rear.

But while the Santa Cruz is now locked in for a USA debut, it's still looking unlikely for Australia. As of this morning, the vehicle was currently "under study" for our market, but it has been comprehensively ruled out in the past, with the brand's local COO, Scott Grant, telling CarsGuide last year; "I can give you a quick answer: there is no plan for Australia for the Santa Cruz ute."

So then, and to paraphrase Star Wars, this is not the ute you're looking for. Because a bigger, tougher, proper Hyundai ute has also been confirmed, and is expected to follow hot on the heels of the Santa Cruz.

The Hyundai workhorse, which will go up against the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger, will be offered in single-, dual- and cab-chassis guises and with a choice of petrol and diesel engines and four-wheel drive. Expect a minimum one-tonne payload and three-tone braked towing capacity, too. 

"The sooner the better," Hyundai former Australia's boss, JW Lee, told CarsGuide in September. "All the time I’m crying and praying whenever I have the chance to bring this issue to headquarters, so the sooner the better.

"(But) 2023 is our target year. It depends on production and the plant. I think the candidate plant is still under study, where we’re going to produce those vehicles is yet to be decided."

That Australia's ute market is both huge and hugely profitable is no secret. We shift, on average, around 210,000 utes per year, with the HiLux (51,705 sales in 2018) and the Ranger (42,144 sales in 2018) taking the lion's share. Hyundai, then, has big plans for its workhorse ute - which is already confirmed for Australia - with the brand here expecting it to go head-to-head with the Mazda BT-50 in terms of outright sales.

"The more sales the better," Mr Lee says. "But I’m not ambitious to take over the ute market. Currently the Mazda BT-50 sales numbers are 15,000 to 17,000 per annum. If we can come close to the Mazda numbers, then we'd be happy."