Hyundai Wants to Be Sexier Than Alfa Romeo
Hyundai’s vice president of design, SangYup Lee, says the brand should be more than just a value nameplate and is setting his target extremely high. He thinks the company should be producing vehicles that are “sexier than Alfa Romeo.”
While we used a photo of a 2011 Hyundai Accent to head the article as a bit of a goof, the idea is only patently ridiculous if you don’t give it any serious thought. Hyundai’s designs have historically been a festival of mediocrity, but that’s not really the case anymore. The Korean brand has stepped up to meet is rivals and has even managed to surpass them in some respects.
Meanwhile, Alfa Romeo continues to impress enthusiasts but that has as much to do with its greatest hits as its does the modern cars. There’s still over dramatic, oddly attractive, and exceptionally fun — sort of like someone you dated during college but outgrew when you amassed enough self-respect to finally break it off. However, with the exception of the 4C, we’re not confident Alfa’s current lineup is their best visual work to date.
If pragmatism were the only deciding factor in purchasing an automobile, Hyundai would win the battle with most manufacturers without breaking a sweat. Fortunately for car-lovers, that isn’t the case. Flair and fun still turns heads and the Korean automaker has been doing a lot to get attention over the last decade. Its cars are much better looking now than they were ten years ago. But Hyundai still wants more expressive styling, which is why it recruited a bunch of top-shelf designers and made Lee vice president of design in 2016. His credentials include the concept vehicles that ultimately led to the fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro and C6 Corvette Stingray. But he’s also worked extensively with Audi, Bentley, Porsche, and Lamborghini.
In a recent interview with Automotive News at the Concours d’Elegance of America in Michigan, Lee expressed his intent to start pushing the brand’s “ sensuous sportiness” design language into production vehicles and gradually transform the fleet into something truly breathtaking. The wait, according to him, will be about a year.
While Lee wants all Hyundai Group vehicles to be gorgeous he noted that the core brand will not overlap with Genesis in terms of design. “Even though Genesis was born from Hyundai, Genesis has to be completely separate,” he explained. “I used to work with Bentley before joining Hyundai. When it comes to luxury brands, heritage is so important. When you design Bentley, you have to memorize the Bentley bible, every single year of the car, and then do the sketches. The first thing you must ask when you look at the sketch is: ‘Is this Bentley enough?'”
“At Genesis, we have freedom. We have a bible, but it’s filled with empty pages at the moment. Hyundai and Genesis can’t be comparable. One is a luxury brand out to write a new legacy of originality and consistency. With Hyundai being a volume brand, it’s a Jekyll and Hyde brand, having a broad spectrum depending on the customer’s lifestyle.”
We’re already seeing the uniform look between Genesis’ models while Hyundai continues expanding in multiple directions. That’s likely to continue with the cascading grille helping to bridge the gap between differently styled models within the mainstream brand. However, if the Nexo and Kona are anything to go by, you can also expect even narrowed faux headlamps on the SUVs with the real illumination coming from cleverly disguised units masquerading as fog lights. The rest of the fleet is a little harder to make assumptions about, but we’ll presume serious expressions on their faces with downturned headlights and flowing bodywork with enough hard angles to keep things interesting.
When pressed on the market’s shift toward crossover vehicles, Lee noted it would be a challenge to keep consumers interested in sedans but seemed convinced everything would be fine if Hyundai stayed focused on solving the problem. “The sedan is not going to die,” he said. “That means you’ve got to do more on the sedan than the conventional three-box with a boring look. What are you going to do to make your sedan special? The SUV has to be very distinctive and is very important. But where do you want to take the sedan in the future?”
“[Hyundai’s] value is a given already,” Lee continued. “I’d like to see people [say], ‘Hyundai has some sexy cars. Sexier than Alfa Romeo.’ That is the message I’d like to give to the world.”
[Images: Hyundai Motor Group]
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