Is Kia Developing a Pickup Truck?

Parent company Hyundai is already developing a pickup, so why wouldn’t Kia get a rebadged version?

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It’s been widely reported and confirmed that Hyundai is hard at work developing its own mid-size pickup truck, called the Santa Cruz. Last year, Hyundai’s Chief Operating Officer Brian Smith released a few interesting tidbits of information, such as it would likely be based on Hyundai’s Tucson SUV, similar to how Honda’s Ridgeline is based on the Pilot SUV. Later in the year, Hyundai’s Chief Design Officer Luc Donckerwolke stated that the pickup would soon start production. With production nearing, there’s a rumor that Kia could benefit from Hyundai’s forthcoming pickup too.

Speaking with Motor Trend at the 2019 New York Auto Show, the publication caught up with Kia’s Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President Michael Cole. In the wide-ranging interview, one of the standouts was Cole’s candor about the potential for a Kia-badged Santa Cruz pickup truck. Though he insisted the Santa Cruz-based Kia would be “a long way down the road,” he thinks that “there’s enough opportunity” for a Kia mid-size pickup truck to warrant production. Though his initial statements are positive, Cole quickly affirms that Kia’s focus is not on adding a pickup truck to its lineup.

“It's not in our thinking right now,” said the Kia executive, adding, “We're focusing on what we believe to be the core territory for us: SUVs and cars.” Kia, however, has long benefitted from its Hyundai sibling. And with Hyundai footing the research and development bill, as well as the market for mid-size pickup trucks is heating, the fiscal case for a Kia-badged pickup makes itself easily understood. Furthermore, Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, and Honda are all vying for the top mid-size pickup prize, as the class is spurred on by rising gas prices and the relatively modest need for a full-size pickup by normal consumers.

For a frame of reference, the current Hyundai Tucson—which saw a mild refresh for 2019—comes with either a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder or a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Both engine options are backed by the same 6-speed automatic transmission. The Tucson comes with a host of safety systems and convenience features as well, making for a comfortable and affordable option in the crossover market. It’s also a capable off-roader.

But as both Cole and Donckerwolke have stated, the Hyundai Santa Cruz pickup truck is still in the future. A decision about a Kia version isn’t likely to be made until Hyundai and Kia see customer demand whenever the Santa Cruz becomes available. We can see that the business case is there, but with such a competitive class, will the market?