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The Car Design Review 5 Interviews: Luc Donckerwolke, Genesis

08 June 2018 | by Farah Alkhalisi

I've had the chance of doing a reset of design DNA for many companies, but I’ve never before had the chance to create a brand from scratch, and this is obviously a whole new dimension.

In the case of Genesis there is no genetic inheritance, so we have a huge responsibility, and every step we make has a relevance for creating this lineage. This has to be perfectly synchronised, you can’t get it wrong. It is creating a DNA which we then apply in different typologies of cars, so we must create something specific and emotional for the brand.

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Genesis GV80

We get inspiration from different fields, such as aeronautical as well as automotive, and we want Genesis to be classical and elegant: for instance, we are defining ourselves as anti-wedge. We are creating a dynamic with lines that arch over the rear axle, enhancing the rear-wheel drive architecture of all our vehicles. We need a long bonnet, and a parabolic line which holds the car from the front to the rear and takes its power from the rear axle. The GV80 concept has these architectural tensions and the cab-backwards proportion; we have the strong yet elegant muscle development around the rear wheels, and really clean and pure surfacing. The front and rear are connected by both having the quad lamps, the double thin slots which will feature on all our models in the future. We also have the crest grille, the symbolic, iconic element on the front framed by these lights, and this derives into a catwalk line that leads on to the bonnet and on to the cabin. 

The design of our cars reflects the Korean character by being non-aggressive: Korean culture is serene, confident and humble, and Korean art has great purity, quietness, craftsmanship and detailing – incredible detailing, which we are interpreting in our designs. Something quite specific in Korea is the great culture of service, how you will not feel oppressed by the presence of somebody, people respect you and keep a distance, and we want to reflect this space, how it gives you luxury – the perfect butler concept where you are served, but you are not constantly asked to interact. You feel a presence only when you need them.

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GV80 concept sketch

This reflects what we call ‘the beauty of emptiness’: you see this in Korean art with a graphic or three-dimensional element which will not fill the whole page, it is given space to develop, so you can really enjoy it. You will see this in the interiors of Genesis cars. You will not have anything overpowering, or competition between design elements, and we will not instrumentalise the interior with a lot of buttons. It’s about a quiet experience and really serene styling, which we are doing for interior and exterior; a spacious feeling, an environment which puts you at ease to relax.

Other luxury brands have been long-established and have their identity, their national heritage and mentality. We obviously have to bring something special, and for us, it’s about the design-driven attitude. First of all, the fact that we are working on the platform everyone dreams of, rear-wheel-drive architecture, is a first element that we utilise, and the second thing is that we are not targeting other brands: we are building something unique.

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GV80 concept interior sketch

It is a new brand, and we are basically starting from scratch in elaborating the DNA, and also in creating a process and creating the team worldwide. It’s quite an incredible experience, certainly to be blessed by having probably the best design studio in the world – I’m really impressed as I’ve never had these working conditions before.

In our new Namyang studio, we have a huge amount of space to really be able to see and analyse the design, and at the same time, it is a design process-oriented building allowing us to work 100 percent digitally.

We are heavily optimising our process for speed and quality, and this is something we have established 100 percent for the Genesis brand: as we have started from scratch we are creating a new team, and it is one of the main requirements of each designer that they have to be able to create from the very
first idea up to the final execution, all digital.

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Luc Donckerwolke

The Namyang studio building supports this, and it is also working as a hub for all the meetings with overseas studios: we have design presentations here each month with all the chiefs of the overseas studios, from Europe, California, India, Japan and China. We have this open-door policy: the studios work in competition, but we have one team – that means we don’t hide any projects from each other, we have  complete transparency.

And this is also what has influenced the architecture of the studio building, complete transparency, where we see everything at every moment.

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Luc and SangYup Lee outside the new studio in Namyang

We also create some directive projects, for instance one project is being done in our Chinese studio where we have people from the European and Californian studios, and sometimes the Japanese, joining in – what we call ‘design without frontiers’. We want to have a perfectly synchronised, international, intercontinental design team with no barriers. We have a big advantage of utilising overseas studios as not just satellite or concept studios, they are all working together on production programmes, completely co-ordinated. Every designer around the world in the Hyundai and Genesis studios is directly involved in production as well as conceptual work.

We are physically separating the Hyundai and Genesis studios, sometimes at the same location, and have created different teams for each; we have about 100 people worldwide working solely on Genesis. There are quite a lot of people joining the design organisation at the moment, but it’s not a growth by speed. We are selecting to get the right team socially as well as from a competence and professional skills point of view.

I believe that it’s really important to be connected socially as we are working together so intensively. Obviously this is an exciting time to join, creating something completely new, and not many people have the chance to tackle such a great challenge. It’s an adventure, a fantastic time that doesn’t happen very often.

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This interview is from our Car Design Review 5, a beautifully-produced 200-page book published this Spring and containing the past year’s finest concept and production cars, plus trend reports, an in-depth feature on our lifetime achievement award winner, industry legend Wayne Cherry, and interviews with many of the world’s foremost designers. If you’d like more details or the chance to purchase your own copy, go here.