- The redesigned Hyundai Santa Fe long-wheelbase model will hit dealer showrooms in about three years.
- Buyers want more seat space, so the new Santa Fe will accommodate eight passengers.
- Hyundai also is considering a "premium people mover" for the lineup, a vehicle that would be positioned above the Santa Fe.
MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Hyundai plans to expand the seating capacity of its long-wheelbase Hyundai Santa Fe crossover when the vehicle is redesigned around 2017.
In addition, the automaker is considering a premium crossover that might be targeted at the Lexus RX.
Hyundai Motor America CEO Dave Zuchowski told Edmunds that the interior of the next-generation Santa Fe will be expanded to accommodate eight people. The current Santa Fe seats up to seven passengers.
Buyers want "a real eight-passenger vehicle with cargo space," he said. "Basically, it comes down to width for comfortable seating for eight, which is what that part of the segment wants."
The next-generation Santa Fe will be widened to accommodate eight, he said during an interview at a press event here.
Zuchowski said the dimensions for the Santa Fe and the Highlander are nearly identical but Toyota "did some really clever interior packaging."
"They have a legitimate eight-passenger (vehicle) and it is doing very well," Zuchowski said. "So we can make some minor adjustments in the Santa Fe long wheelbase (model) and get the same kind of functionality. You will see that going forward," probably around 2017, he said.
In other news, Zuckowski said the automaker is taking steps to meet U.S. demand for the Santa Fe and other two crossovers, the Santa Fe Sport and Tucson. Both models seat five. The Santa Fe and Tucson are assembled in South Korea. Kia Motors assembles the Santa Fe Sport for Hyundai at the Kia plant in West Point, Georgia.
"All three of those vehicles at this time next year will have much greater production capacity," he said.
That means it should be easier for car buyers to get their hands on one.
The automaker also is considering a premium model that would be positioned above the Santa Fe, possibly aimed at the Lexus RX.
"We definitely studied a premium people mover, if you will," Zuchowski said. "It is not in the plan and it is not eliminated. It is something under consideration."
If built, the vehicle likely would be developed on the next-generation Santa Fe platform.
"The RX is basically the Highlander, and (Toyota) can charge a premium for that vehicle because they are sold in different showrooms," he said.
However, Hyundai would have to sell both the premium and mass-market Santa Fe models in the same showroom.
"It might be more difficult to try to get the premium you need to justify the price when they are sitting next to each other on the lot," Zuchowski said. "It is not impossible, but it makes it a bit more challenging for us. But certainly it is something that we are looking at."
Edmunds says: Crossover buyers want functionality, and eight-passenger seating is definitely a big plus.