SEOUL -- Kia Motors has hired Pierre Leclercq, a former designer at BMW and Great Wall Motor, as its head of styling, in a move expected to help the automaker reverse its fortunes in China, its top market.
Kia and its affiliate Hyundai Motor have been grappling with declining sales in the world's top auto market due to political tensions between Seoul and Beijing, competition from Chinese brands and a lack of SUVs.
As head of design for Great Wall since 2013, Leclercq oversaw projects including a revamped Haval H6 SUV that was "well-received for its refined design," Kia said in a statement.
Leclercq also designed BMW's X5 and X6 SUV models before overseeing the German automaker's M performance subbrand.
"Leclercq is one of few star designers who have experienced all of the major automobile markets including Europe, the United States and China," Kia said in a statement on Thursday.
The appointment comes just three months after Hyundai announced the recruitment of Simon Loasby, former director of Volkswagen Group China, as its China design head.
Hyundai and Kia have seen their sales drop in two of their biggest markets, China and the U.S., hurt by a sedan-heavy lineup in markets powered by SUVs.
In China, Hyundai's sales fell 29 percent and Kia's sales dropped 42 percent in the first half of 2017.
Belgian-born Leclercq will take up his new role at Kia the end of September, working in South Korea alongside Hyundai's chief design officer Peter Schreyer, a former Audi designer, and head of Kia's design center in Korea, Youn Seon-ho.
Leclercq will be responsible for developing Kia's long-term design strategy, while strengthening cooperation between its design networks in the U.S., Europe, China and Korea.
Leclercq should help reinforce the design of Kia's SUV lineup, especially in China, said Sang Alexander Koo, a professor and former designer with Kia. "As he worked for a Chinese company, he knows what kinds of design Chinese people like."