By Paul Lienert and Hyunjoo Jin
DETROIT/SEOUL — Hyundai plans to launch a pickup truck in the United States as part of a broader plan to catch up with a shift away from sedans in one of the Korean automaker's most important markets, a senior company executive said.
Michael J. O'Brien, vice president of corporate and product planning at Hyundai's U.S. unit, told Reuters that Hyundai's top management has given the green light for development of a pickup truck similar to a show vehicle called the Santa Cruz that U.S. Hyundai executives unveiled in 2015.
Hyundai currently does not offer a pickup truck in the United States.
Hyundai also plans to launch a small SUV called the Kona in the United States later this year.
People familiar with the automaker's plans said separately that Hyundai plans to launch three other new or refreshed SUVs by 2020.
So-called crossovers — sport utilities built on chassis similar to sedans — now account for about 30 percent of total light vehicle sales in the United States. Consumers in China, the world's largest auto market, are also substituting car-based SUVs for sedans.
People familiar with Hyundai's plans said the company plans to roll out a new version of its Santa Fe Sport midsize SUV next year, followed by an all-new seven-passenger crossover to replace a current three-row Santa Fe in early 2019 in the United Sates. A redesigned Tucson SUV is expected in 2020, people familiar with Hyundai's plans said.
Hyundai's U.S. dealers have pushed the company to invest more aggressively in SUVs and trucks as demand for sedans such as the midsize Sonata and the smaller Elantra has waned, and as Hyundai has announced a shift to electric vehicles.
"We are optimistic about the future," Scott Fink, chief executive of Hyundai of New Port Richey, Fla., which is Hyundai's biggest U.S. dealer, said. "But we are disappointed that we don't have the products today."
Hyundai's U.S. sales are down nearly 11 percent this year through July 31, worse than the overall 2.9-percent decline in U.S. car and light truck sales. Sales of the Sonata, once a pillar of Hyundai's U.S. franchise, have fallen 30 percent through the first seven months of 2017. In contrast, sales of Hyundai's current SUV lineup are up 11 percent for the first seven months of this year.
"Our glasses are fairly clean," O'Brien said. "We understand where we have a shortfall."
Reporting by Paul Lienert and Hyunjoo Jin.