That’s the strategy being pushed by the design chief of all three brands, Luc Donckerwolke, who said that “our core task is to differentiate the design philosophy of the three brands, not least because we have a big [around 70%] share in Korea. We need to differentiate each model, otherwise the landscape is too homogeneous”.
Donckerwolke told Autocar that he believes Kias and Hyundais must become more distinctive not only in the Korean roadscape that they dominate but also around the world, “by segment and by region. We will not have a global design language because otherwise it’s too rigid. [The alternative is] more work, but it’s more flexible.”
This does not mean that the brands’ designs will diverge completely across continents. “There will be some unifying themes, with varying treatments,” said Donckerwolke, who likened the approach not to “Russian dolls but to chess pieces, with a look that reveals its own charismatic character. For example, Kia used to be about the tiger nose grille, separate headlights and the lower intake. Now it’s going to be more of a mask that will deliver sportiness and a presence.”
Kia design head Byungchul Juh said that Kia will be “young, challenging and cool – cooler than before. There will be a distinct version of tiger face for each segment, and we’ll keep the tiger nose grille. In principle it’s the same, but there’s a different interpretation for each segment, and more of a 3D feeling. We’re moving from a nose to a face.”
He added: “The next Optima is the first step. It’s not extreme but progressive, with a strong brand identity. There will be even greater separation between Kia and Hyundai. Kia is more innovative, young, challenging, iconic and cool. There will be unexpected details, and influences from general product design, cars, architecture and fine art.”
Because Kias have had a more distinctive look for longer than Hyundais, Donckerwolke and SangYup Lee, former Bentley colleague and now head of Hyundai design, determined that the Sonata represented the heart of the range and would be the design flag-bearer. The saloon is a model built over 35 years and eight generations but no longer sold in the UK.