Hyundai Motor Group’s Chief Designer Steps Down

Hyundai’s chief designer, Luc Donckerwolke, has decided to step down from the company due to personal reasons. Donckerwolke was the mastermind behind the recent powerful redesign of Hyundai’s vehicles.  

He first joined Hyundai Motor Group in 2015 after previously working with Volkswagen Group where he led the development of the Audi A2, Lamborghini Murcielago, and Gallardo. In 2012, he was chosen as the head of Bentley’s design center and oversaw the development of the EXP 10 Speed 6 concept car.

Donckerwolke’s resignation is effective April 29 according to an internal letter acquired by Automotive News. Hyundai hasn’t named a replacement for Donckerwolke, but SangYup Lee, SVP, and the head of Hyundai’s design center will continue with his responsibilities.

Luc Donckerwolke’s Influential Approach

Luc Donckerwolke | Korea Times

Belgian designer Donckerwolke left a lasting legacy at Hyundai Motor Group, South Korea’s largest carmaker. Before he joined the company in 2015, Hyundai’s style was generally routine and was generally quite stale. The carmaker was fighting to get from behind Toyota and Honda’s shadows and ended up mimicking their competitors’ family-centric design.

Donckerwolke worked along with Peter Schreyer, another VW Group alum turned design leader at Hyundai to overhaul the carmaker’s look. The updated design team was able to rejuvenate Hyundai’s style with more futuristic elements and helped to develop a unique personality for each model, new and old.

Sensuous Sportiness, a Concept

The sportier, modern design in the new era of Donckerwolke and Lee was labeled as “Sensuous Sportiness” which was the reinterpretation of Hyundai’s car art form. The carmaker defines this modernized concept by four components: proportion, architecture, styling, and technology, and in that order. These ideals helped Hyundai models become more aesthetically pleasing and charismatic. 

Donckerwolke specifically cared about differentiating the look and feel of each of the Hyundai Motor Group brands: Hyundai, Kia, and Genesis.  From a design standpoint, he helped the teams think of each brand individually. They considered the needs of each market they worked in as well as what their competitors were doing. He was inspired by the deviation of “purebred” vehicles and appreciated the ideas of crossover SUVs and tame sports cars.

With Genesis, Hyundai’s relatively new luxury brand, Donckerwolke spoke about the importance of “creating a new DNA.” This was designed to help the young division have its own character outside of Hyundai and Kia. He highlighted the importance of emphasizing the essence of South Korea’s culture in Genesis’ model design while also focusing on different body styles based on consumer interests.

For instance, Donckerwolke said that sedans were extremely important in the South Korean market so they wanted to make sure they had the right appeal for their customers there. Conversely, the design elements of Genesis’ SUVs were a bigger priority for the U.S. market.

Donckerwolke’s focus on originality, functionality, and symbolism for both concept and commercial models led to various awards for Hyundai, Kia, and Genesis. These honors include recognition from the Idea Design Awards, iF Design Awards, and the Red Dot Design Awards.  Donckerwolke was also added to AutoBest’s DesignBest Hall of Fame in February of this year.