In an exclusive interview for iDNES.cz, the German designer and his Czech wife explain how the transformation of a car manufacturer that follows trends in design into the one they define took place.
Which project do you particularly remember?
Hyundai i30 N Fastback, it was not planned at all. It was made in our design studio. We originally had the i30 as a three-door hatchback, but we found that customers no longer wanted this type of body. Even if they like a coupe, they want the comfort of a four-door car. And so a fastback was made. And of course the N version on large wheels, with other elements and a powerful engine. I have a strong emotional connection with him. We make it in Nošovice. I know the car from the first sketch, and at the same time I had the opportunity to see how it is made. It’s a fantastic experience. I’m really proud of him.
Do you remember one element, the detail with which you fought? After all, creating a coupe silhouette on a relatively short car is not easy.
We fought with the engineers, we wanted a low roofline, which is problematic for main space, if we do not want to make it difficult for adult passengers to stay in the back seats, on the other hand we want to have a nice silhouette. It was really a millimeter fight.
designer Hyundai Motor Europe
While studying car design at the prestigious University of Pforzheim, he looked to the Mercedes-Benz studio as an intern. He began his career at Toyota in its design center in Brussels, where he worked from 1990 to 1997. He spent 1998 at the Institute of Design and Photography in Barcelona, where he improved his digital modeling techniques, came a year returned to his native Germany and participated in the car project. Volkswagen’s multimedia company, which had the task of bringing IT technologies on board. He joined BMW in 2000, was responsible for managing the 3 and 6 Series design project. In March 2005, he moved to Hyundai Motor Europe, where he still works today.
You called combat engineers. You have a long career. How is it? Even harder? After all, the regulations are getting stricter, there are more of …
It’s still a matter of discussion. People who specialize in ergonomics have a very important voice. Because you have to sit particularly well in the car. However, it is true that design on the other hand is very important. When we go back to fastback, I think we did a good job, it fits very well in the back and it has a beautiful silhouette.
The current novelty of the Hyundai is the Ioniq 5, an electric car with a very specific design. Does it have such a unique design because of its electric architecture, because it is not a classic combustion car? Or did you want to differentiate it primarily in this way, attracting attention to a different type of drive?
Several factors involved. Ioniq 5 is groundbreaking in many ways. Following the models named Ioniq, we have introduced the entire Ioniq submarket with this car, just as we created a brand new brand for the Genesis model. And Ioniq 5 thus opens a new chapter, especially in development. We have invested huge sums of money in a brand new “skateboard” platform; it has a wheelbase of three meters, the tiniest possible batteries in the floor, open interior. We made the most of the long wheelbase, curved the slopes to a minimum, and got maximum space inside thanks to the fact that there is no central tunnel on the floor.
And that led us to think about a whole new concept during the first sketches and the making of clay models. We thought about the basic question: “What do I really need in the car?”. We did not just want to make “another electric car”.
For example, we thought of creating a multifunctional sliding center console, we call it “universal island”. And the seats themselves. We thought about what people will do when they charge their electric car. And so we thought the car deserved first class seats in airplanes. With footrest. To relax and recharge your own internal battery. To do this, the ambient lighting, sound system, we used ecological materials, we thought of the smell, the tactile impression. Sustainability was a big issue.
Hyundai Ioniq 5 in action
It uses the advantages of electric drive to number one
Finally, someone has taken full advantage of the potential of a different distribution of aggregates in electric traction. After years of statements and promises from car manufacturers, how the electric drive of the car will change its appearance and touch, Hyundai has put it into practice. Ioniq 5 looks fantastic and is also well thought out. Read how it works here.
You have recently introduced Ioniq 5 as an experimental robot taxi. This is another big topic that is back on the agenda after a few years – autonomous management. Do you think it will change the look and concept of cars again, as electric propulsion did?
Robotaxi is currently an exceptional project, perhaps showing a new path of mobility. We think not only about the cars themselves, but about the whole concepts of mobility. The world is changing. People use Lift and Uber and a robotic taxi is the next step. Hyundai has acquired a stake in Boston Dynamics, a company that develops these technologies. However, this does not mean that all cars will be robotic. It’s just another segment that is growing today. However, we still assume that the private use of cars remains the most important way to use them.
These are all expensive technologies in super-tech cars. And when we return to cheap, simple, mass cars, what’s the biggest challenge, complication for you today?
Increasingly digitized, there are more and more safety and assistance systems in cars. Various sensors and sensors play an increasingly important role.
How do the designs of the Hyundai Center, which are all over the world, actually work? Does your studio only work on projects for Europe? Or does it have a global reach?
We work for the whole world. We are working on cars for Brazil, India, we are working on joint projects for China. We are one of Hyundai’s network of studios all over the world. The main studio is in Korea, another is in California, for example. We work together and compete at the same time. Most important is the intense connection. We use digital technologies to communicate and collaborate across the globe. We have a room with virtual reality, where we put up 3D glasses that project a virtual model of a car of life size. In addition, we are shown the avatar of a Korean, Chinese, American fellow designer, with whom we immediately consult and work as if we were together. We release even the smallest details, radii on the body, like live. I require that all my designers learn to work with 3D modeling programs. This helps to increase our quality, attention to detail. In the case of sketches, you can indicate something “selling”. Of course we sketch too, but very soon we move on to computer modeling. This in particular saves a lot of time. In addition, we can share data quickly all over the world, with Korea, America … We are faster. This means we can create trends, not just follow them. Proof of this is Ioniq 5.
Today you have a very strong, distinctive design language. When did the turning point come? When did the brand start to focus on creating a quality, distinctive style?
I think we started to change about fifteen years ago. I originally worked for BMW, and when I switched to Hyundai, I was fascinated by the energy of the whole company. But the models did not match, it was the era of the first generation Hyundaie Santa Fe, the Getz Hyundaie and others. Then the company started to develop very fast. The iX35 SUV came along and was a huge success, we introduced several studies that introduced the distinctive shape of the front grille, and it was the iX35 that put it into series. Tucson, an important model, followed. Like the i30. And the design gradually evolved. And today there is a new chapter in electric cars. In addition, a new generation of traditional models, such as the Santa Fe, is bringing customers to the market who have not yet considered it.
Is Ioniq 5 inspired by Italian design? Is it a tribute to Italian car design?
Yes, that’s right. Giugiaro was the first designer of the brand, his work was the Pony model, the first Hyundai ever. And we wanted to remind you. After all, the forerunner of Ioniqu 5 was the concept 45. The name refers exactly to the then 45th anniversary of the performance of Giugiar’s Hyundai Pony. At that point, we wanted to avoid creating an overly futuristic concept and then a boring production car. It is not a retro design, quite the opposite, it looks primarily to the future, but it obviously has a connection to the past, but we interpret it in a new modern style. The Asian, especially Korean mindset looks to the future, at Hyundaie there is no reason to do retro design.
That another professional study is reminiscent of the Porsche 911?
I will leave that to your discretion. The main theme of this concept is pixels. For us, the pixel is an image-defining element, a symbol of modernity. We are developing this topic, for example, on the new Staria model. A pixel is a visual sign of a car manufacturer. We absolutely do not want to make one design and then repeat it in different sizes.
Which hyundai do you drive?
I’m driving the H1 model and I’m already looking forward to the new Staria. I find it wonderful. MPV really brings futurism to this segment, something completely new.