Hyundai is danger-close to releasing a new small truck in the United States. The company that scored home runs with the edgy Veloster and cute but not too cute Kona is about to drop a pickup the size of which we have not seen in a long time. If anyone can bring back the groovy small truck vibe of yesteryear, it’s Hyundai.
The ultimate and arguably original small truck was the Subaru BRAT. The name BRAT stood for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter. Maybe. Or someone in the Boch family who had the exclusive rights to distribute Subies came up with that after the factory shipped them a few to try and sell. Either way, the company that now runs the sober and somber “they survived” adverts was young and wild once, just like the rest of us.
Perhaps as a way to circumvent the import duty on light trucks, the BRAT had two rear-facing plastic bucket seats. They weren’t unsafe as long as you didn’t let go of the BMX bike hand grips outsourced from Huffy. Some BRATs even had a big rollover bar so you wouldn’t get your mullet dirty if you pulled an endo. Look closely, and you can see that Fuji Heavy Industries used the same tubing from the roll bar for the Bi-drive actuation lever.
Small trucks were not just for “full-send” maniacs in Levi cutoffs who wanted to launch their pals out of truck beds. They made for frugal transportation. Back in the day, Mitsubishi had a great small truck called the Mighty Max. It had a price of one dollar under $6K in the 1990s. That was cheap even then if you’re quickly typing “inflation adjuster” into Safari. About $12,000 in today’s money, or 50% less than the cheapest economy crossover you can find gathering dust on a new car lot now. The fact that Mitsubishi could bring those trucks from Japan to America on ships and then sell it to you for $5,999 after the dealer got its taste was a mathematical miracle. It must have cost the company forty bucks to build one.
For that price, you got a four-cylinder, rear-wheel drive truck with no radio and no rear bumper. You could add those along with four-wheel drive for another $6K if you so wished. Always a safety geek, I opted for the rear bumper on mine. It rusted in 20 minutes. I took it back, and the Mitsubishi folks happily replaced that defective one. The second one rusted in 20 minutes. I didn’t care. I was rocking Click and Clack on my Walkman headphones and couldn’t hear it dragging behind me through Harvard Square.
Hyundai can’t recreate the BRAT or the Mighty Max in this new enlightened century. There’s more than one reason why. The biggest is the all-important Insurance Institute For Highway Safety’s testing protocol. Hyundai’s new trucklet will need to support a minimum of four times its weight on one corner of its roof. My Mighty Max was a great truck, but I wouldn’t have expected its roof to hold a Big Gulp without sagging. The new Hyundai truck’s automatic emergency braking system will then be tested. An emergency auto-braking system costs roughly $5,999 in today’s dollars, so we’re pretty sure this Hyundai will cost more than $12K after they construct the truck around it.
Hyundai will assemble its new small truck in Montgomery, Alabama, which brings us to its name, Santa Cruz. The only place on Earth more expensive to produce a small truck than Montgomery, Alabama, is California. To be profitable, trucks have to be assembled in North America. This is because every president since LBJ has imposed America’s 25% import tax on light trucks. According to Subaru’s media page, one of those Presidents and a former Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, owned a Subaru BRAT. That cannot be a coincidence.
Hyundai’s new truck will have four doors and looks a bit like the Honda Ridgeline Black Edition, the $45,000 mid-size truck every Car Talk reviewer loves, and every truck lover hates. We would have assumed that the Santa Cruz would slot into that niche, but Hyundai is clear in its press release that the Santa Cruz “Breaks open all-new segment territory.” We hope that means it’s small and affordable. If anyone knows how to make small and affordable fun today, it’s Hyundai. We can’t wait to throw a Frankie Goes to Hollywood cassette in the Walkman and experience this all-new segment.