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Will there be a Kia ute version of the Hyundai Santa Cruz? And why a new Korean ladder-frame dual-cab is more likely for Australia than a car-based model

Will a Kia version of the Hyundai Santa Cruz exist? If so, would it come to Australia? (Image credit: Thanos Pappas)

The Santa Cruz, Hyundai’s first dual-cab ute, has launched to much fanfare in North America.

Like its Ford Maverick rival, the Santa Cruz is built in the USA for the tastes of its market, and while Hyundai Australia says it will only be built in left-hand drive for now, we asked Kia Australia if the sister brand would push for a version of the pick-up wearing a Kia badge.

Even if one were to exist, it would be a tricky topic for Australia, as the Kia's local product planning boss, Roland Rivero, explained: “From our perspective, when you’re approaching HQ in Korea for developments, you have to be very specific because only so many vehicles can be produced in right-hand drive, and only so many of those will be built to comply with ADRs [Australian Design Rules].

“If we were to go asking, we would be more likely to go to HQ for something on a ladder chassis, we need to consider what would be more likely to meet the needs of the Australian consumer - what would give that product the best chance.”

So, even if a Kia version of Hyundai’s Santa Cruz was in the works, it seems it would be unlikely to be requested by the Australian arm.

There has been no word out of Kia globally on the potential for its own version of the Santa Cruz, which is built on the same platform as the new Tucson and Sportage mid-size SUVs, but with petrol-only powertrains.

the Santa Cruz is not really specified to appeal to an Australian audience. the Santa Cruz is not really specified to appeal to an Australian audience.

Buyers in America can select a naturally aspirated or turbocharged 2.5-litre petrol four-cylinder engine with either front- or all-wheel drive. Either way, drive is sent via an eight-speed automatic transmission.

While there’s no diesel or hybrid in the Santa Cruz range, said powertrains are available in the Tucson range elsewhere in the world. To boot, Hyundai has gone to lengths to convert select models to RHD just for Australia, like the Korea-sourced Veloster hatch and US-sourced Palisade large SUV. It is notable Kia has not done the same for its Palisade alternative, the Telluride.

Hyundai Group (including Kia) has also gone relatively quiet on the development of a ladder-chassis ute which has been discussed at length in the past. Previously, the brand had pitched a 2023 window for the new model, although few details have been aired since.

The latest clue offered by Hyundai Group was the Kia-branded RHGV concept shown at the brand’s “hydrogen society” reveal in September. The RHGV is a hydrogen-powered version of the military ladder-frame truck first revealed at a military expo a year before, at the time sporting a 168kW diesel engine.

Could the big RHGV concept hint at a hydrogen-powered ute future for Kia? Could the big RHGV concept hint at a hydrogen-powered ute future for Kia?

Hyundai Group R&D boss Albert Beirmann also alluded to what to expect from the group’s ladder-frame ute, stating “if you’re talking about commercial vehicles, pick-up trucks, we are the largest seller of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles worldwide. That is perhaps a better solution. We are working on it. You will see our solution soon”.

It is hard to tell whether the RGHV and military trucks are related to a production ladder-frame chassis for civilians but hopefully, as Mr Beirmann suggests, we will find out soon.

With the booming ute segment in Australia, it remains to be seen which of the mainstream brands will be the first to test the waters in Australia with a new car-based alternative to the dual-cab crowd, with the options globally including the Santa Cruz, Maverick, Honda Ridgeline and Fiat Strada/Ram 700.