I’ve been with Kia ten years now. The Genesis brand is the fresh thing and is taking a lot of attention, but at the same time we must not forget that Hyundai and Kia are the main brands we need to keep developing. I think we have made really big steps at Hyundai and Kia, with many more car sales than before, design awards and whatnot.
When you replace cars like those it’s always a challenge because it’s like the second album in music, the difficult one. But on the other hand at least we have something to build on. We had nothing to build on until now. The Korean and Asian mentality in general is so ambitious. I think it’s a desire for newness. Life in Korea is changing so rapidly.
Hyundai [Motor Group] has some core values, and there’s one word it uses that for me is always important: that word is ‘caring’. It helps me in my design in many ways because it means caring for the customers, but also caring to create a trust, so that when customers get their next model they feel there is something to rely on, not to suddenly be confronted with something combative. That’s when they go somewhere else.
In a way of course, we have to do the unexpected, but at the same time it needs to fit in that picture somehow.We are developing a kind of a manifesto for the two brands at the moment. The difference between Kia and Hyundai, as I’ve spoken about before – [symbolised by] the snow crystal and the water drop – still says a lot about the brands. Not only in the way you look at the two shapes, but also the way water appears in very different forms. It can slowly flow, it can cut stone, it can freeze.
Hyundai [the water drop] could be more inspired by nature, while Kia [the snow crystal] is very architectural, and more tech-driven. I think it’s good that there is this competition to challenge each other.
I think Genesis is a good name.
A journalist asked me once, ‘Does the world need another luxury brand?’ I replied, ‘I don’t know, but I think Hyundai Motor should have one’. I think Genesis fits well in the portfolio because Kia and Hyundai are volume brands both moving towards a premium perception, and their quality is improving enormously. But I think if you create a separate kind of aura for a luxury brand, it helps a lot.
What should Genesis be? I think it should not be brutal at all. People often say car designs must be aggressive. Why the hell do they need to be aggressive? Genesis should be athletic, sleek-looking and have a certain elegance, but still have a kind of sporty look.
So far all our [Genesis] cars are built on a rear-wheel drive platform so we have super-cool proportions. This is a great thing to develop. I’ve been dreaming about working on that kind of proportion for 25 years! At Volkswagen I never got it.
We have good teams in all our main studios worldwide, in California, Germany and Korea, and we are also building up a design centre in Yantai, China. The latter has been running for two years or so, with 30-50 staff. It’s a full-blown studio, we can make anything there.
I think this variety is really rewarding for all of our guys. We have so many projects and it’s so exciting with the things that are coming, including the Genesis brand. There are so many opportunities and possibilities in each of those studios.
I think it is good that other companies have started realising how important design is, and that design can make such a difference. Designers have such a good feeling for the brand. We understand so much about so many things – kind of everything within the company. We are not just focused on one thing. Finance people are just focused on finance, the marketing guy is focused on marketing. Technical people are mainly interested in technical stuff.
But we have such broad knowledge, because when we start with the first sketch we already know how we want to position the car, because every car has its story. Then you need to know about the feasibility. How do you make it? How do you bring the cost down, but enhance the quality? How do you present it at the launch?
Design is related to so many things and in this way, it is important that designers are in the centre of where things are being decided, to help to steer the products.
Car Design Review 4 contains the best concept and production cars of the year, as chosen by the world's leading designers, trends, student work, and much more. Available now.