Another Korean auto manufacturer has committed to producing a small, stylish pickup. First, it was Hyundai with its great Santa Cruz truck concept that has been green-lighted for production. Now comes word that Kia has both a dual- and single-cab, small “Ute” in the chute for release in 2022 or 2023.
Of course, “Ute” is the Australian term for a small utility truck. These were made for decades by Ford and Holden from sedans and station wagons. In the US we had Chevy El Caminos and Ford Rancheros.
The last Rancheros were made in 1979, with El Camino production making it to 1987. By then the onslaught of cheaper Japanese mini trucks and stripped half-ton trucks were in full force. It was too much competition to justify continuing the car/truck platform.
Still, many wish for a return to that style of pickup. While Kia’s Ute appears to be small truck-based, it is still close enough to be called a Ute to us.
Kia Australia’s Chief Operating Officer Damien Meredith just confirmed the news to Australia’s Carguide. Unfortunately, there are currently no plans to release it in the U.S.
Kia is looking to have both gas and diesel options, based on a “brand new” platform. Utes account for 210,000 sales in Australia, with Kia hoping to take a 10% bite of those sales. Current trucks in this market include Ford’s Ranger and the Toyota HiLux, similar to the Toyota Tacoma in the US.
Kia also confirmed that the new Ute will be tailored specifically to road conditions in Australia, or “tuned” as they like to call it there. Tuning adapts import chassis and suspensions to unique conditions occurring down under at places like Blue Mountains roads in New South Wales.
As there is no longer car manufacturing in Australia all of their vehicles are imported from Japan, Europe or the US. So Australian tuning appeals to customers wanting the closest thing to a “national” vehicle they can get. It’s also a great marketing tool for importers looking for an edge.
While Hyundai calls their Santa Cruz pickup a “lifestyle” vehicle, Kia says its version is a more rugged “Ute family”. It will feature both cabs, higher ride height, and a separate bed. Hyundai says they’ll produce the Santa Cruz somewhere in the US, so we know it will be sold here.
As for Kia’s Ute, it remains to be seen. If clearer heads prevail and Kia follows their Korean competition they could make the Ute available here.