By on December 22, 2021

There’s a very strong case to be made that the cars we drive are influenced, at least in part, by suits in automaker C-suites. Witness the ongoing transformation at Toyota, which has finally shifted back to making cars with a pulse, machines crafted at the behest of noted gearhead Akio Toyoda. Sure, there are hundreds or thousands of people working on any particular project at a given time, but the Big Cheese often influences decision making – intentionally or not.

This is why we sat up and took notice when Hyundai shuffled a brace of people largely responsible for the styling and driving feel of vehicles in that automaker’s showrooms.

When the South Korean giant lured Peter Schreyer from Audi and, later, Albert Biermann from the BMW M division, it was seen as a couple of coups for Hyundai – gambles that seemed to pay off for both the individuals and the company over time. With the addition of former Bentley designer Luc Donckerwolke, the Hyundai Group had a who’s-who of vehicle design and development. Efforts paid off in the form of their excellent Palisade, selling-for-over-sticker Kia Telluride, and rockets like the Elantra N. Even if these men didn’t have direct input into one or more of those rigs, their outsized resumés surely had an influence in some form or another.

Now, there are changes. Peter Schreyer and Albert Biermann will now serve as advisors in their respective fields. Schreyer will work as a design advisor and help the Group foster talented designers while also serving as a brand ambassador. Biermann will work as a technical advisor and help the Group’s efforts to develop new engineering talent. He’s been at the R&D head table since 2018 after joining Hyundai three years prior and will be replaced by Chung Kook Park as the new head of the R&D Division. Meanwhile, Schreyer has been around since 2006, moving into the President of Design Management role in 2018. The new Head of Hyundai Global Design Center will be SangYup Lee, also the company’s new executive vice president.

What does all this mean for the Hyundai and Kia brands? It’ll not go unnoticed the shoes of both men were filled with well-qualified locals, rather than people from other brands. Schreyer and Biermann are well into their 60s, as if that means anything these days, and have been toiling at the company for a number of years. Perhaps retirement really is the reason, though having two big influences moved to advisory positions at the same time could portend a forthcoming shift in design and driving philosophy. We hope not, as the existing roster of machines is – mostly – very attractive (or at least tremendously appealing to their intended demographic). We will note Hyundai, and most other automakers, are on the cusp of going fully electric within the next few years. Perhaps this hastened the desire for a change in scenery.

Will these two execs have the same influence as advisors? History suggests they might not. A couple of rockstars who helped create some excellent vehicles during the company’s gasoline era will hopefully not find themselves shut out in their advisory roles.

[Image: Hyundai]

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12 Comments on “Changing Lanes: Key Execs Move to New Roles at Hyundai Group...”

  • avatar

    It’s good to see companies like Kia/Hyundai evolved from copycat designing to creating their own designs. They’ve come a long way in the realm of quality but still need improvement in that area.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Looks like a passing of the torch to younger staff, while honoring the old guys with continued authority and more pay. H/K doesn’t want to mess with a good thing.

    I remain a fan of both brands, although the new Kia logo is terrible. And perhaps the tiger nose has run its course.

  • avatar

    Glad to see meritocracy is still allowed in certain circles. I’m a fan of H/K designs overall.

  • avatar
    randy in rocklin

    This whole idea of electrification is nothing but a big fat fad. As people realize the limitations of owning an EV over a period of time they will realize what a dumb decision it was to go all EV.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, that big fat “fad” is the future, mate, like it or not. My next car will be electric, and with the solar array on my roof will cost nothing to drive except the insurance and a set of tires every few years. Just the savings on gasoline will pay the solar panels off in three years, and the lower PG&E bill will be icing on the cake.
      Imagine starting out every morning with a full tank that cost you nothing. That’s the kind of fickle passing craze that is here to stay.
      I’m keeping the Miata, though.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Nothing to see here. H/K are South Korean companies run by South Koreans. Oh, they realized they really really sucked in a few areas and brought in some people from outside the two companies to fix the overall suckiness. The outsiders have been there long enough to affect change and teach some younger South Koreans how to do what they do. Back to being wholely South Korean.

    • 0 avatar

      Schreyer was already semi-retired (plus, he’s 70 yrs old and 15 yrs is an eternity for an auto designer).

      All the newer Hyundai, Kia and Genesis designs were done under the leadership of Luc Donckerwolke, but Luc resigned during the pandemic to be able to spend more time with his family.

      Donckerwolke has since returned to HMG, but in a slightly reduced role – which enables him to stay in Europe.

      His former lieutenant (including during their time at Bentley), Sang-yup Lee has taken the top “official” role as head of design (but that’s more of a formality).

      The head of the Hyundai design studios in California and Germany, the 2 main executives at the N Division (Schemera and Rahman), the head of design for Kia (Karim Habib), tge head of product development for NA (Ricky Lao), etc. are all not Korean.

      Biermann never intended to stay full time at HMG for long (would have had to retire 5 yrs ago at BMW) and the ongoing pandemic probably accelerated that (8 yrs is still a good run).

      But now in his role as technical advisor, he can stay in Germany and be close to his grandkids.

  • avatar

    Looks like they ran out the talent because Hyundai thinks it can do the same thing with hometown talent. Gonna be a disaster. Calling it now.

    • 0 avatar

      They probably have more international talent at the top ranks than any other automaker.

      And Sang-yup Lee, while Korean, spent his career at GM and then VW Group until he was brought to HMG by his boss while at Bentley, Luc Donckerwolke.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Kia and Hyundai have both come a long way in design and quality. The quality of the Big 2 1/2 has declined so badly while Kia and Hyundai have steadily improved. As a former GM loyalist mostly Chevies GM has lost my loyalty with declining quality. Stellantis has desirable products but quality is still lacking and Ford has been on a quality decline as well. Hopefully my new Maverick will restore my faith in Ford. Kia and Hyundai still need to improve their quality and dealer service.

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