Hyundai hopes show-goers will give thumbs up to the potential segment-busting Santa Cruz concept. Photo credit: Len Katz

In today’s crowded market, automakers are constantly looking for new opportunities, so called “white spaces” where they can target a new niche of buyers.

After years of toying with the idea of entering the pickup truck market, Hyundai may have come up with an alternative in the form of the Santa Cruz Concept making its debut at this year’s North American International Auto Show.

Santa Cruz , starts with a 5-seat crossover-like cabin mated to a shortened, pickup-style bed. But don’t call it a pickup, insists Hyundai Director of Corporate Planning Mark Dytko. “No everyone who needs an open bed wants a pickup,” he says.

The concept vehicle targets young, so-called “Urban Adventurers” who are likely to lead an active lifestyle and want a place they can carry tools or toss dirty sportswear and gear, rather than inside their car or crossover, he explains. For those who need to haul some lumber or, perhaps a dresser they found at a flea market, there’s an integrated extender that yields nearly as long  cargo bed as a midsize pickups.

But the footprint of the Santa Cruz is about that of a compact crossover, making it easy to maneuver and park on crowded city streets, Dypko notes.

(Live from Detroit. Click Here for TheDetroitBureau.com’s complete round-up of the 2015 North American International Auto Show.)

The rear of the Hyundai Santa Cruz Concept features an integrated, extending cargo bed.

Unlike a pickup or more traditional SUV, the concept vehicle is not designed to manage off-road environments. It has no more ground clearance than a car, and no real towing capacity.

Ironically, Subaru thinks it’s this lack of truck-like functionality that might expand the appeal of a production Santa Cruz to the 80% of U.S. buyers who never put a pickup on their shopping lists.

(Reborn Acura NSX rockets into Detroit’s Cobo Hall. Click Here to check it out.)

It doesn’t mean the Santa Cruz can’t be sporty, however. I concept form, it features a 2.0-liter turbodiesel making 190 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. It would yield, suggests Dypko, mileage in the “high 30s.”

That is, of course, if it were put into production.

Hyundai has spent more than a decade trying to figure out how to enter the truck market, And for good reason, notes Dave Zuchowski, the CEO Hyundai’s U.S. sales arm.  Trucks were largely responsible for the recent, large gains in the U.S. automotive market, passenger car sales running relatively flat.

The Korean carmaker hasn’t felt confident tackling dominant domestic full-size pickup manufacturers, and can’t make a business case for a conventional midsize model.

But is there an argument for something that is a blend of car – or crossover – and pickup? A number of competitors have tried. General Motors long produced the El Camino, and Ford was one of several makers that tried the hybrid approach with its now-abandoned Explorer Sport Track.

(Ford’s new GT supercar drops a bombshell on the Detroit Auto Show. Click Here  for a closer look.)

Hyundai is hoping its formula finally hits the market sweet spot.

For now, “It is not included in our production plans,” cautioned Zuchowski, adding that the maker will be looking closely for feedback from media and potential buyers at the Detroit Auto Show and other upcoming events. “If it does what we think it will we want to move it into production as quickly as possible.”

Unfortunately, Zuchowski told TheDetroitBureau.com, “quickly” is a relative term. Even if the Santa Cruz concept were to generate solid feedback, “The very earliest we could see something like this (reach showrooms) is three years.”

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