How Design Heads See Hyundai’s High-End Future

Hyundai has pulled back the curtain on its upscale aspirations. The Korean auto-maker unveiled the Vision G Concept Coupe at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in August and showed the car again a few days later at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

The full-size coupe hints at what the brand’s flagship Equus sedan will look like when it debuts next spring at the New York auto show. The sleek Vision G was designed at the Irvine, Calif., studio led by Chris Chapman — under the watchful eye of Peter Schreyer, head of design for both Kia and Hyundai, who moved to the Korean group in 2006 after a 26-year career at Volkswagen and Audi.

Staff Reporter David Undercoffler sat down with Chapman, 49, and Schreyer, 62, together last month during Monterey Car Week to talk about their latest project.

Q: You’ve said this model hints at what your next full-size production model will look like. What elements will make it to production?

Peter Schreyer: The way this line runs through the car [pointing to the sharp crease that starts just above the headlight and runs along the side of the car to the taillight], the way the front is done, a big C-pillar and the same kind of proportions, even if this is exaggerated.

Chris Chapman: The general expression of the headlight, the shape of the grille. It’s basically the same architecture, differently proportioned because the car that’s coming out is a different animal than this.

PS: The interior, it’s very close to where we’re going.

CC: I want to say that’s an industry first [pointing to the curved navigation screen integrated into the top of the dashboard].

PS: When you see a curved-screen TV, I don’t really know what to do with it. But a curved screen in a car makes perfect sense since it doesn’t reflect as much as a straight one.

CC: The basic [instrument panel] shape is meant to be expansive in a horizontal kind of way. We like to do interiors that aren’t screaming for attention.

PS: Especially for the flagship-type car, it’s really important to expand on the idea of logic and things being in the right place. The interior is about architecture and ergonomics. It’s the materials, and if things are not in the right position, it can drive you mad. It can be dangerous, even.

That’s something I have been dealing with a long time with all those Audi and Volkswagen interiors, many dozens of them. Right now, we’re working on an interesting system for the [multimedia interface], an element where you can scroll on a touchpad or push buttons around it, but at the moment, it’s in kind of a research phase.

Explain the door handle that’s not actually on the door.

CC: There’s this image that I have growing up of the president of the United States getting on board Marine One helicopter. There’s that Marine standing there, and he’s kind of a sentinel next to the door. There is that old image of opening doors … for the door to not be the focal point. When you’re coming up to it, and there’s someone at a fixed position who can say, “Good morning,” and hit the lever for the door without this awkward shuffling around the person.

Does it get tiring to have people compare the concept to other brands?

CC: It’s always been that way. I’m looking for the person who is looking at sections: “silhouette, I like it; rear three quarter, I like it; front three quarter, I like it; beautiful car.” But not where the first words out of their mouths are “taillight” or “grille,” where they’ve zoomed in on everything.

I’m looking for … people that appreciate that and don’t go necessarily right to the details and go, “Oh, why is the door handle not on the door ?” and “Why is the taillamp vertical? You’re supposed to go horizontal.”

PS: If you’re too much focused on the details, you lose the idea of what it looks like far away. I think it’s more important to recognize a car from a far distance and say, “This can only be a Hyundai.”

With Hyundai, is it liberating not to have a heritage to draw on as designers are expected to do at a brand that’s been around a century?

PS: This is our chance to build up the brand and also find character elements and a certain look, a certain DNA that tells you, “OK, it’s a Hyundai.” The product range is so wide, from very small cars, cheap cars made for the Chinese or whatever foreign market, up to the luxury segment.

CC: At Hyundai … you’re not offending people … when you come out with a radical change in the design development. People have a tendency, if they’re connected to a particular brand, to get offended. “How could you possibly change my BMW or my 911? What did you do?”

Peter, now that you’ve been head of Kia and Hyundai design for about two and a half years, where do you see taking the Hyundai design direction?

Hyundai is in a different stage than Kia was when I started. And there have been some great achievements from Hyundai. I think that whole “fluidic sculpture” story has something about it; Hyundai was quite challenging this way, and many other brands followed. Hyundai was quite bold.

In a way, I want to build on this, only I want to make it a bit more organized, a bit more refined, and more architectural, and not just for the sake of a shape.

I don’t want to lose this emotional and sculptural design at all. But I want to develop it to the next step and add that kind of German logic to it (laughs).

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