How Hyundai and Kia made design a force


I had my first in-person taste of the upcoming Kia EV6 last weekend in Irvine, CA. It was a beautiful 77 degree day spent among rolling hills under sunny blue skies – even the people I met were wonderful. They were tanned, attractive, “Californian” people, happy and endearing. No matter what California sent to distract me, my eyes kept turning to the EV6.

There is simply no escape. The Kia EV6, especially in the matte metallic gray finish, is an incredibly beautiful car.

Not too far away, another Korean car caught my eye. This time it was the Hyundai Ioniq 5, which I was also experiencing in production for the first time. From a few feet away, the Ioniq 5 looks to everyone like a retro-futuristic hot hatch, low and chunky and ready like old rally cars seem to want to. leap out of line, and barrel to the next curve. Then the door opens, someone gets out of the car, and your brain has to recalibrate.

It’s not a hot hatch at all. The Ioniq 5 is a mid-size, five-passenger crossover with 21-inch wheels and premium LED lighting. It was all just a turn of light.

“How…” I start to ask, really surprised at how small the Ioniq looks compared to her actual size. “How did you do that?” “

“We hired the best people in the world,” was James Bell’s straightforward response.

James Bell is Kia’s Corporate Communications Manager and was kind enough to spend time with me last Saturday at the Electrify Expo Electric Mobility Festival in Irvine and help me understand how far Kia has come during of the past two decades. Which, if you weren’t around in the ’90s, let me tell you: Kia has come a long, long way.

“The company decided they were going to hire the best people they could find,” said James (I’m paraphrasing a bit here). “Not only the right people, but the better people – even if that meant we had to look outside of Korea to find them.

The team that Hyundai and Kia have assembled to develop their new Global Electric Modular Platform (E-GMP) reads like an automotive version of the Traveling Willbury.

Bell starts with Albert Biermann, who was originally hired as a chassis and suspension engineer at BMW in 1983, and who has worked on every classic BMW you want while working his way up the ranks to vice president of BMW M Automobiles and BMW Individual engineering in 2008 Hyundai hired it away from BMW in 2015, precisely to ensure that new Hyundai and Kia models built on the E-GMP platform were as good, a dynamic point of view, than anything else. Ed. note: Biermann was also involved with the Kia Stinger and, of course, Hyundai’s N line. We regret the oversight.

Then he mentions Luc Donckerwolke, a superstar car designer whose portfolio includes the Audi R8 LeMans race car, Lamborghini Murcielago and Gallardo, as well as the 2013 Bentley Flying Spur and the EXP 10 Speed ​​6 concept. This guy can draw cars, in other words, and he’s proven it time and time again since joining Hyundai with the 2018 Palisade, 2020 Sonata, 2021 Elantra, and G / GV80 Genesis models. He oversees the look and feel of the cars.

Finally, we come to Karim Habib, another BMW alumnus who wrote both the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupé (passed out!) And the EV6 ahead of us.

“I love this car,” I tell James. “Actually, I just wrote an article about it. I said it looked like a Lancia Stratos.

“It’s a good thing to look like,” he said. “There may also be Lotuses. “

We talked a bit about some of the other players in the EV space who have – say, “struggled” to translate some traditional styling cues into a modern, crossover electric vehicle design language, and if those styling cues do more. to hurt or help these brands in their transition to electric vehicles.

“Do you think Kia, because it’s a younger brand with maybe less heritage, has more freedom to make really bold design choices? “

“Yeah,” James said thoughtfully. “Yeah I think so. Kia’s design language is really forward looking. When I was at GM there were a lot of ‘competing interests’, shall we say?”

We joke a bit about the Fiero / Corvette conspiracy theories and a “You can’t have a coupe; Buick just received a coupe! mentality.

“At Kia,” he says, “there is none of that.

From EV6 alone it is clear that Karim Habib is making the most of his opportunity to lead a design department that is not beholden to the past.

“EV6, as the first dedicated Kia EV, is a showcase of progressive human-centered design and electrified power,” said Habib, in Kia’s official statement on its new “Opposites United” design philosophy. “The philosophy is based on five key design pillars,” the statement continues. “” Bold for nature “,” Joy for reason “,” The power to progress “,” Technology for life “and” Tension for serenity “.

Which, I mean – it’s a pretty dense PR discourse that I really want to challenge… but I can’t. The EV6 looks really daring, and I want to put some aggressive studded tires on it and take it out into the wild. It sounds cheerful the way sports cars look fun and exciting, but it’s a four-door crossover I can logically plead for. As for horsepower, well, Kia debuted the 576-horsepower EV6 GT, lining it up alongside a Lamborghini, AMG, McLaren, Ferrari and Porsche. for a drag race on the airstrip.

The Kia didn’t win this race (McLaren won it), but it wasn’t the last. Not by far – and that says a lot about what Kia seems to have gotten about the auto industry: People build cars. And, if you hire the best people to build your cars, it makes sense that you probably end up building the best cars. Or very good ones, at least.

With the handling of the guy who made the BMW M the Bmw m, a forward-looking design language, and the guy who brought Lamborghini and Bentley into the modern age by keeping an eye on things, it’s hard to imagine Hyundai and Kia doing anything else.

James was a very good sportsman and spent a lot of time talking about cars and Kia with me at the Electrify Expo. I wanted to return the favor, so I asked him if there was a point or message about Kia that he would like to add to the article. After a short pause, he told me this: “We believe the launch of the EV6 will be remembered for a long time as a pivotal moment in Kia history here in the United States. It will be our proverbial “vehicle of change” because you will never forget the first time you see one on the road, and therefore it is a perfect representation of Kia’s new Opposites United design theme.

“I love it!” I say with a small laugh.

“I hope you can feel that I LOVE the car business! he added.

I have this feeling. I love him too.

[Images: Kia, Hyundai]

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