Thomas Bürkle is chief designer at Hyundai’s Europe Design Center in Russelsheim, Germany. He joined the Korean brand in 2005 from BMW, where he’d worked on the E63 and E64 6-Series and E90 and E91 3-Series. He has since built up Hyundai’s design team in Europe from 10 to 60 people.
CDN sat down with Bürkle at the Frankfurt Motor Show to discuss the new European-designed five-door addition to Hyundai’s C-segment offering, the i30 Fastback.
Q: What is the thinking behind adding the Fastback to the i30 range?
Bürkle: The i30 Fastback is a car born purely out of the design studio – it was never planned by marketing or product planning. It came out of our studio and we pushed really hard to bring it to the market.
I think it’s a very exciting product; something that was missing in the i30 family. The i30 is the people’s car, but we also wanted something for people who value elegance and style. With the Fastback we can talk to people who might think about a Mercedes A-Class or BMW 1-Series.
When you analyse the design, you can see the emphasis on the wheels is very strong. The Fastback looks very agile. Everything is built around the wheels. And if someone says the back reminds them of an Aston Martin a little bit, I’d be happy.
Of course there were marketing proposals going in other directions, like cross versions and so on. But we said no.
Q: Is everything forward of the B-post the same as the hatch?
No – the roof is lower, the windshield is lower and the side window glass is different. What is the same is the front door panel, front fender and the bonnet. The front bumper is new, and from the B-pillar back, everything is new.
With the previous i30 we had a three-door version but that had very poor sales. Today a coupé is no longer defined by the number of doors but the overall style and proportions. We didn’t want to give up the four doors or the tailgate, but to combine them with an elongated, aerodynamic profile.
Also, people want four-door coupés. Parking spaces are narrow and when you have long doors you can’t open them properly. So we said no thank you, we don’t want to do a two-door.
Q: Did you come up with the Fastback after the i30 Wagon? The Wagon has quite a fast back itself whereas a more boxy design might have given more differentiation from the Fastback...
I personally taped the window line of the Wagon. I think practicality can be combined with style. I think the Fastback is the most stylish derivative of the i30 family, and it’s a chapter we’ve never opened before. If we aim to offer modern premium design, it has to be expressed not only in the materials and the maturity of the design but also in the excitement of the silhouette.
The Wagon looks fast, but when you look at the inner volume it offers a lot of cargo space. The window line tricks the eye. But it’s also longer than the hatch, and the longer platform underpins the Fastback as well. It’s not a longer wheelbase, it’s the rear overhang.
We put a strong focus on proportions. If the car has the wrong proportions then everything is wrong.
Q: Hyundai’s form language has become less decorative and more defined by volumes in the current generation of cars. What drove that change of emphasis?
It’s stronger confidence and that the car is a lasting product and not a gimmick. We believe people with true style don’t want a “wow” effect, which feels old the next day. The company has become more serious, but we mustn’t forget that we should be more lively and more exciting than other brands in terms of design. We need cars like the i30 N, the Fastback, an emotional almost-shooting-brake wagon, to emotionalise the brand and speak to people’s hearts.
Q: Nixing the idea of a i30 Cross runs counter to trends among other brands...
We’re trying to think a bit deeper about the essence of products. To put on plastic cladding doesn’t make a different car, whereas a Fastback has its own character. I think people look for character and real value. Plus, if you want that lifestyle look, you can go for a Kona.
Q: Where is the looming impact of connected, autonomous vehicles taking car design? Do we need a different form language for a different kind of vehicle?
For a while we are going to need Jekyll and Hyde in one car – you’ll want to drive yourself until you hit a traffic jam. And a car is not just a cabin moving from A to B. The emotional aspect that makes a car different to a washing machine will still survive.