Regardless of what doomsayers are writing about the U.S. truck market, it shouldn't take Kia or Hyundai long to figure out there's money to be made here. As long as we're dependent on foreign oil, the industry will continue to take a hit, but one doesn't need a Ph.D. to realize there might be other ways to make inroads to the U.S. marketplace.
We set Mark Stehrenberger, our future-thinking illustrator and automotive design insider, on the path of pickup-truck product planning for Kia and Hyundai. He sent us these illustrations with a few extra pieces of information. Mark couldn't tell us if he'd been in touch with either company's design centers, but he did suggest both manufacturers have paid attention to the Honda Ridgeline. If the Ridgeline is the future of pickup trucks, these concept drawings begin to make more sense.
Making a name for themselves designing direct competitors for Honda and Toyota, Kia and Hyundai now have fairly versatile midsize SUV (Sorento and Santa Fe) and minivan (Sonata and Entourage) platforms, either of which could become a midsize pick-up foundation without significant reengineering costs. Producing vehicles that offer more standard features for less money than the Honda or Toyota competition is starting to work for the Koreans, but at what point do they steer away from imitation and begin to find their own path? At what point do they stop fighting to get into the room at a lower price and start mapping out their own design direction and brand definition?
That could happen soon, with the first test of that new course coming in the form of a segment-leading crossover pickup. An efficient V-6 engine is a must, and a good four-cylinder turbodiesel in the mix could go a long way to shifting Kia's reputation from low-cost option to segment-leading alternative. Consider that free consulting, Kia.
For Hyundai, how about something sportier? That's why we offered the extended-cab version here. We'd hope for some type of electric midgate technology and possible height-adjustable bed option. Maybe a turbocharged gas engine could give Hyundai a unique buying position. And this in no way implies that a more traditional truck design wouldn't be appreciated. For those who don't know, the second-largest truck market in the world (behind the U.S.) is Korea--they understand how to make and use pickups. If the Koreans decide to go in that direction, we'd be happy to take a look at what they think real truck guys want in a full-size pickup. It looks like it's taken Toyota three tries to get it right. Kia will be a quick study. But until we see something, we won't hold our breath.