The man leading Hyundai's design center has found an unexpected amount of freedom at the South Korean automaker. Compared with his time at Volkswagen Group, Luc Donckerwolke is now in charge of a different lineup of products for each region. This leads to some advantages and disadvantages, he told Automotive News Europe in an interview.
What do you do at Hyundai?
I have responsibility for design at the Hyundai and Genesis brands, leading about 580 designers worldwide. The designers work in seven design studios -- two each in South Korea and China, one in Japan, India and California. Between Hyundai cars and LCVs, as well as Genesis, we run about 80 design projects a year.
What was your biggest surprise when you joined Hyundai?
Finding a different lineup of products for each region. We have some specific models for India, China, Russia, Europe and the U.S. It’s not the same type of work that I used to do, designing for companies that had global products. We have almost no global products at Hyundai, which multiplies design projects. It’s almost like we have four or five different brands within Hyundai because we have a different customer orientation in each of our main regions. The challenge is to keep the same basic DNA but execute it in a way that suits the tastes of the various regions.
To prevent cannibalization with sister brand Kia, do you regularly review Kia’s new model designs?
My boss, Peter Schreyer, who is responsible for Kia design, ensures that we are not cannibalizing. Since I arrived here less than three years ago I have fully concentrated on rebuilding Hyundai’s design DNA. Given the development times of this industry, you won’t see the first products of this new wave until the end of this year.
What level of design differentiation per region are you allowed?
Compared with other brands, we have a huge amount of freedom. This also derives from a high level of localization. Since we are going to need a set of dies in Russia anyway, we can differentiate the body panels as much as we need. The result is the Solaris, which is only for Russia. On the other end of the spectrum, I have worked to create some commonality. When I got here, Hyundai had 65 types of door handles. You can imagine the time and money that is wasted when you have so many door handles.
Is the sedan dead?
I think volume brands did not take care of sedans enough, while premium brands did. There are some exceptions. The Honda Civic and Accord are performing quite well despite the global trend away from sedans and toward SUVs. My task is to make our sedans much more emotional like we did with the Lafesta [a compact model sold in China]. Maybe we will have more hatchback or fastback styles because customer lifestyles are changing and a traditional three-box sedan lacks practicality.
Isn’t your Genesis premium brand lineup too small to compete globally?
You cannot sign up dealers in Europe or the U.S. if you only have two or three sedans, especially now. We will have two SUVs, three sedans and one coupe. The GV80 concept unveiled last year at the New York auto show is beginning to convey how Genesis is going to evolve in SUVs.
Does the Essentia concept that was displayed at this year’s New York show preview Genesis’ first coupe?
Not really. The main intent of this concept was to hint at the second chapter of Genesis’ overall design language. It’s a statement of general philosophy rather than a preview of a coming production car. What I can add is that at Genesis we do not have any advanced design studios or production car studios. The people who penned the GV80 concept are the same ones working now on the production SUV. Those who created the Essentia will pen our production coupe.