Hyundai is considering jumping into the full-size pickup segment, sources say.
The Korean automaker, which has made major inroads recently into the American car and crossover markets with critically acclaimed new products, recently held research clinics with truck buyers in California and Texas using a Ram 1500 customized with a Hyundai-style grille and interior tweaks. The response from the focus groups was positive enough to keep the project moving forward, according to our sources.
Hyundai Motors Company of Korea, like other foreign auto manufacturers operating in the U.S., manages its operations through an American subsidiary, called Hyundai Motors America.
A spokesperson for HMA told PickupTrucks.com that adding a pickup truck to its portfolio isn't currently on the company's radar.
"We never say never about future products we might add," the spokesman said, "but pickup trucks are not a high priority for us."
Our sources say that it's HMC, not HMA, that's running the research and that they may be doing it without HMA's knowledge.
This isn’t the first time that Hyundai has considered building a truck for the U.S. In 2008, Dr. Kim Dong-Jin, Vice Chairman and CEO of Hyundai, said that Hyundai killed plans to build a midsize pickup for sibling Kia Motors at a factory in Georgia because of softening demand for trucks and rising gas prices.
Using a Ram 1500 in its research clinic isn't necessarily a sign that Hyundai and Chrysler might partner to produce Ram-based Hyundai pickup trucks. Manufacturers considering entering new segments can test early ideas using modified versions of existing products.
But such a manufacturing agreement wouldn't be unprecedented for Chrysler if it did occur. Chrysler was going to manufacture Ram 1500-based pickup trucks for Nissan before that deal died last year. With Ram sales off 20 percent year-to-date, a deal with Hyundai could help Chrysler take advantage of underutilized manufacturing capacity.
Similar deals, though, have had little success with truck buyers, such as the low-selling Mitsubishi Raider, Isuzu i-Series and Suzuki Equator. Sources say that Hyundai's larger dealer network could help overcome the hurdles that smaller manufacturers have faced promoting and selling rebadged trucks.
One other possibility is that Hyundai could build an entirely new truck in South Korea on its own later this decade. The U.S. and South Korea signed a free trade agreement in 2007. Part of that agreement will phase out current tariffs of 25 percent on South Korean-built pickup trucks exported to the U.S by 2017.