Design chief wants more individuality for Hyundai, Kia, Genesis models

Design chief wants more individuality for Hyundai, Kia, Genesis models

Luc Donckerwolke, the man who oversees design at Hyundai, Kia, and Genesis, is determined to get more differentiation into the model range. He not only wants greater visual separation between all the models in the range, he also wants more distinction between Hyundai Group cars and others in the respective segments, and global distinctions so that a Hyundai in China doesn’t necessarily look like one built for North America. He told Autocar, “We will not have a global design language because otherwise it’s too rigid. [The alternative is] more work, but it’s more flexible.”

Donckerwolke gets an extreme look at the results of homogeneous design, because an enormous number of cars on the road in South Korea are Hyundai Group products. “[Our] core task is to differentiate the design philosophy of the three brands, not least because we have a big [around 70%] share in Korea. We need to differentiate each model, otherwise the landscape is too homogeneous.”

Top-down, each brand gets a design brief. Hyundai will be Hyundai’s “sexy, seductive and sensuous, sporty, eager and stylish,” holding onto its value proposition while adding emotion. Kia will be “young, challenging and cool — cooler than before,” said brand design chief Byungchul Juh, with Donckerwolke adding that it’s about “streetwear — bold, fresh and young.” And Genesis is “haute couture.”

Donckerwolke characterizes the design philosophy as not “Russian dolls but … chess pieces, with a look that reveals its own charismatic character. For example, Kia’s used to be about the tiger nose grille, separate headlights and the lower intake. Now it’s going to be more of a mask that will deliver sportiness and a presence.” Kia designer Juh said, “There will be a distinct version of tiger face for each segment, and we’ll keep the tiger nose grille. In principle it’s the same, but there’s a different interpretation for each segment, and more of a 3D feeling. We’re moving from a nose to a face.” The sketches we’ve seen of Kia’s coming small global crossover take a first step, and we’re told the next Sportage will make more impact than the new Tucson.

As for Hyundai, the next Sonata will “be the design flag-bearer.” We wait to see how much of the vehicle all of this affects. But right now, look at the 2020 Elantra and Sonata from the front three-quarter; ignore their front fascias, and they’re two sizes of one sausage.

It might be too late to put the Russian-doll approach back in the bottle, though, based on how difficult it’s been for other brands with the same intentions. At best, the results end up in distinctions so fine that it even takes enthusiasts a long time to note them. Take Audi’s head of design Marc Lichte, who’s talked about more progressive, singular design since he assumed his position in 2014, then again in 2015, in 2016, in 2017, and 2018. The latest A8 was meant to signal the new regime. We think it still takes focus to figure out which Audi sedan or SUV is which from more than 20 feet away. BMW announced the same kind of push earlier this year.

We hope Donckerwolke avoids the same creative restraints that brand identity and globalization impose. Still, he’s been saying the same thing since at least 2017. And in 2018, and again in 2018. Real design freedom is on the way, he says, and it’s powered by batteries. “Get rid of the ballast” of the internal combustion engine, he said, “and create again. There is nothing simpler than an electric car.”


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