Korean brands Hyundai and Kia are betting a lot on crossovers and hoping for a big payout. A pair of recent interviews of the two companies' global CEOs by Automotive News reveals their planned road to success is filled with SUVs; by giving a "full" crossover lineup to both by the end of next year, Hyundai and Kia are responding to the crossover craze that’s been sweeping not just the U.S., but the whole world.
Neither brand is a stranger to SUVs. In fact, they both got in on the crossover trend fairly early with offerings like the Kia Sportage and the Hyundai Santa Fe. But the crossover field is more crowded and more competitive than ever, and Hyundai/Kia is getting serious about keeping up with the times.
"Our strategy is to launch more SUVs," Hyundai Motor Co. CEO Wonhee Lee said in an interview with Automotive News. "We will have a full lineup. We are trying to increase our adaptability. When the SUV market grows, we will be able to match that growth."
Despite Hyundai and Kia both offering a handful of crossovers, the majority of their sales volumes in the U.S. remains in smaller cars. They both still have a reputation for diminutive, affordable cars in an age where many American buyers are turning to its Japanese, German, and American rivals for crossovers. Both brands continue to struggle with consumer awareness when it comes to the American SUV market, and Lee says he wants he wants to change that by boosting ute sales to around 60 percent of Hyundai’s U.S. sales in the next three years.
Part of that strategy involves the recently revamped 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, which very much benefited from a major refresh. Another part is giving Kia more crossovers which will include the three-row Telluride that's scheduled to hit dealers in Spring of 2019—plus a new compact crossover based on the SP Concept in the second half of next year. Some version of both crossovers is expected to show up in Hyundai’s lineup as well.
But what about pickup trucks? We heard near-confirmation of a Hyundai pickup in 2017 but little in the way of specifics since. If the plan is to give each brand an equal shot at utility models, it sounds like Kia might get its own version of the crossover truck if/when it does come to production.
Since Hyundai knows how hard it is to compete with the Big Three in the U.S. in full-size pickups, the Hyundai pickup would follow the approach of the SUV-based Honda Ridgeline. That means it would have unibody construction with front- or all-wheel drive along with a slightly smaller stature. The soonest we would see a Hyundai pickup hit the market is 2021, according to Lee.
"It's a new segment, so we don't have any data to give us a kind of confidence," Lee told Automotive News. "But we believe we can create a new segment for pickup trucks in the U.S. market.”
We’ve seen a major upswing in quality and reasons to get excited about Hyundai and Kia over the past few years, but its sales haven’t been reflecting that. This new crossover-focused strategy could be what the brands need to get more Americans to take them seriously.