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2013 Hyundai Santa Fe. (Hyundai)
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe. (Hyundai)

Brand Strategy

Canadians go for crossovers Add to ...

By 2016, the odds are that nearly one in three of you will be driving some sort of crossover SUV. One in three! Astounding.

It might be a Toyota RAV4. Or a Honda CR-V. Or a Hyundai Santa Fe. Perhaps a Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Edge, Mazda CX-5, Dodge Journey, Nissan Murano or Pathfinder, Kia Sorento, Dodge Journey, Jeep Compass… and on and on the list goes.

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Canadian dealerships are stuffed to the rafters with an astonishing assortment of crossovers – wagons that look like traditional truck-based SUVs and do many of the chores minivans did before they began to grow so profoundly passé. Oddly enough, at a time when most middle-class families are focused on finances, crossovers keep growing more popular despite the fact they do minivan jobs at a higher price. And you thought image didn’t matter. Think again.

In any case, big, small, basic, elaborate, rugged and not so much, all these many crossovers – and a small handful of real SUVS – are chasing the 500,000 buyers who DesRosiers Automotive Consultants says will buy some vehicle of this sort in a Canadian new-vehicle market of about 1.6 million. Car companies hoping to grow and prosper better have something great to offer here.

Hyundai, as it happens, does. One of the best-selling crossovers is the Hyundai Santa Fe. More than a decade ago, this rig began to put Hyundai on the map in Canada, bringing to the South Korean company some desperately needed street/trail cred at a time when the typical car buyer had visions of rusting Pony cars and lumpy Sonatas dancing in her head – that is if she thought of Hyundai at all. And in the years since, the Santa Fe has grown better and better.

A little history. The first-generation Santa Fe arrived as a 2001 model and, to be truthful, it was a lumpy affair – from its fat front fenders and bulging flanks, to the heavy steering and waddling road manners. It lumbered down the highway and through shopping malls, but it was also cheap and proved to be highly reliable. Families watching their pennies could dump the minivan mom-mobiles in favor of one of those newfangled SUVs – without risking the next mortgage payment. The first Santa Fe was a hit and things only got better.

The second-generation Santa Fe was a 2007 model, and a sleek replacement at that. Even today – dated as it is – this Santa Fe ranks among the Top 10 best-selling light trucks in the country. No. 10, in fact. Only the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Dodge Journey and Toyota RAV4 are more popular. Sure, the Santa Fe of 2012 has been moving with the help of thousands in sales sweeteners, but so do a lot of other crossovers and almost every other type of vehicle.

The point is, by any measure, the Santa Fe is and has been something about which Hyundai could be proud. It put some giddy-up in Hyundai’s step and justifiably so. Arguably, it’s the most important vehicle in Hyundai Canada’s lineup.

That’s saying something, too, because Hyundai Canada has emerged as a force in Canada. Two of Canada’s top 10 best-selling cars are Hyundais (the Elantra compact and Accent subcompact). Hyundai is now the No. 5 auto maker in Canada, with 8.3 per cent of the total market – behind Ford, Chrysler, General Motors and Toyota. As Hyundai Canada president Steve Kelleher puts it, “I get a good seat at tables where I wasn’t even invited to sit before.”

Hyundai Canada’s sales have zoomed from just a little more than 80,000 in 2008 to nearly 130,000 last year. The expansion continued even during the deep recession years of 2009 and 2010 and the company has added a stunning 3.4 point of market share during that time. Kelleher, who joined Hyundai Canada in 1986 – which means he’s seen the worst and now the best of times – is not being disingenuous when he claims the recent success is based on an array of new models with solid quality, aggressive styling, lots of safety features, good fuel economy and affordable pricing. It’s fair to throw in advanced technology such as direct injection engines, too.

Now, though, Hyundai is no longer the bold upstart surprising the marketplace and shocking established rivals, in particular Toyota and Honda, Kelleher concedes. The Hyundai brand may not be quite as strong as the best mainstream brands from Japan and around the world, but it’s close and with that comes rising expectations. Consumers now expect better things, bold things from Hyundai.

Thus, the 2013 Santa Fe can’t be just good, it must be great or risk disappointing buyers and potential customers who are ready to rank Hyundai vehicles in the top tier. The opportunity, though, is pretty attractive if you’re Kelleher and his gang. One in five Canadians says the plan is to purchase a crossover next time around. One in five.

To meet demand, the 2013 Santa Fe is going to come in two sizes – the shorter-wheelbase Santa Fe Sport with seating for five passengers, and the longer-wheelbase Santa Fe with seven-passenger seating. The latter will arrive early next year, while the Sport is heading to showrooms right away. In Hyundai showrooms, those two will join the slightly smaller Tucson crossover.

Of course, the design of the ’13 Santa Fe is all new, inside and out. The available all-wheel-drive system has been improved, too. The drive to save fuel means that only four-cylinder engines will be offered – one with a 2.4-litre, 190-horsepower, direct-injection powerplant; the other a 2.0-litre, 264-hp turbo. The base engine not only has more horsepower and torque than the 2012 2.4-litre four, it gets 12 per cent better fuel economy. And for those worried about the turbo’s muscle, it has 4 per cent less horsepower, but more torque, while getting 8 per cent better fuel economy.

The Santa Fe Sport, argues Hyundai, also has more interior room than the latest Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Edge, and the Chevrolet Equinox. The Hyundai has lost some weight, too – 120 kilograms, in fact – making it lighter than a comparable Escape, one of the company’s key targets.

But, of course, the most important piece of this puzzle is pricing and it remains unchanged, says Hyundai. At least the MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price) is being carried over, though we all know Hyundai has been heavily discounting the outgoing Santa Fe. In any case, the 2013 Santa Fe starts at $26,499 for the base, front-drive model, and ranges all the way up to $38,499 for a loaded Limited version with all-wheel-drive. Right across the board, argue Hyundai officials, the 2013 Santa Fe has more and better features than the 2012 model, for a sticker price that has remained exactly the same.

One in three of you out there – you crossover shoppers – will care about all of this. Or at least the Hyundai people hope so.

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