R&D

Automobile - - Design -

THE R&D CAM­PUS out­side Seoul feels much like the Warner Broth­ers lot in Bur­bank, Cal­i­for­nia. Em­ploy­ees of Hyundai Mo­tor Group’s three di­vi­sions—Hyundai, Kia, and Gen­e­sis—bus­tle about on this lovely Fri­day morn­ing. Over at yon­der in­ter­sec­tion a fork­lift truck hoists a dis­guised pro­to­type off the pave­ment be­fore pro­ceed­ing to a test­ing cell. On an­other street some peo­ple on our bus spot the next Hyundai Veloster, a con­tract player in B pro­duc­tions, scut­tling by in cam­ou­flage wrap. Alas, the se­cu­rity staff put strips of “Do Not De­tach” tape over our cam­era lenses.

Over at the new de­sign cen­ter, top ex­ec­u­tives are in­tro­duc­ing the 2019 Gen­e­sis G70, the lat­est sedan from HMG’s two-year-old lux­ury di­vi­sion. Gen­e­sis head Man­fred Fitzger­ald wel­comes us and turns the show over to Luc Don­ck­er­wolke, se­nior vice pres­i­dent and head of Gen­e­sis de­sign. Clad in black, Don­ck­er­wolke looks ready to break into a ren­di­tion of “Fol­som Prison Blues.” He was se­ri­ous to the point of grave­ness when in­tro­duc­ing Sang Yup Lee, vice pres­i­dent of styling and a key mem­ber of the in­ter­na­tional co­hort of Gen­e­sis de­sign­ers. Lee made a big mark in Detroit with the C6 Corvette and fifth-gen Ca­maro be­fore go­ing to Eng­land and con­tribut­ing to the new Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal GT.

Don­ck­er­wolke and cool-hand Lee un­drape the two G70s on stage and take more than 200 re­porters through the high points, lay­ing out the goals of mak­ing their 3 Se­ries bat­tler “emo­tional, ath­letic, and sexy.” The G70 evinces a vivid ex­e­cu­tion of con­ven­tional themes, but its grille and flar­ing nostrils out­side it are a sur­prise af­ter the sober G90 and somber G80, the papa and un­cle mod­els of Gen­e­sis. Sur­pris­ing as well are the fender chevron and swoopy roofline, an arch­ing cat’s back. Th­ese ex­am­ples of the new car look alive in blue and red.

It’s a fine re­sult from Don­ck­er­wolke’s dream team, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing his stum­bling block. “I never wanted to be a boss,” he tells me af­ter the pre­sen­ta­tion, speak­ing with el­e­gant traces of his na­tive Flem­ish tongue. Not only is he in charge of cre­at­ing the Gen­e­sis brand DNA, but he also seeks the right chem­istry among his cast of char­ac­ters.

“We see our de­sign­ers more than our fam­ily,” he says, “so it has to be­come a fam­ily. And we are mak­ing sure we re­ally en­joy work­ing to­gether.” He names de­sign­ers who are present or have re­mained in the stu­dios. “When we work, there’s no such thing as a hi­er­ar­chy. I’m not the boss. We are all at eye level, we are en­joy­ing, we are con­tribut­ing.”

He sum­mons Bozhena Lalova, the Mercedes-Benz vet­eran who is head of color and trim. Her theme dur­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion was how the G70 isn’t just sporty out­side, which ex­plains the alu­minum trim. She’s wear­ing a caped blue dress that lends a spe­cial salience to her pres­ence. Tak­ing my cue from this, I ask if there was ever an idea to use ex­otic ma­te­ri­als, go a lit­tle crazy.

“This car is cool,” she says, with over­whelm­ing gra­cious­ness. “It’s young, it’s cool. That’s why we fo­cus on the alu­minum. Of course, ‘crazy’ ma­te­ri­als are some­thing we are con­sid­er­ing and de­vel­op­ing. And this is go­ing to be the fu­ture for the next G80.”

I thank Lalova, and be­fore I take two steps, Don­ck­er­wolke smears caviar on the toast. With our ses­sion about to end he in­tro­duces Sasha, a bearded man, mid-30s, wear­ing a Me­tal­lica T-shirt. Alexan­der “Sasha” Seli­panov presents his card: chief de­signer, Gen­e­sis Ad­vanced De­sign. “Sasha de­signed the Bu­gatti Ch­i­ron,” Don­ck­er­wolke says. Like Lee, Seli­panov is yet an­other prod­uct of ARTCEN­TER Col­lege of De­sign. Al­though he was born in Tb­lisi, Ge­or­gia, he sounds Amer­i­can and looks moshed-out Cal­i­for­nian.

The patently ir­re­sistible op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a new brand drew Seli­panov last De­cem­ber to the Gen­e­sis ad­vanced stu­dio in Rus­selsheim, Ger­many. But was there some­thing else? What about that guy with the di­rec­tor’s bull­horn? “Luc has a unique blend of car passion, cre­ativ­ity, and abil­ity to think out­side the box,” Seli­panov wrote later in an email. “He is very knowl­edge­able, how­ever, he is al­ways ready to look at things from an un­con­ven­tional and un­bi­ased per­spec­tive. It is not just the pro­fes­sional side of Luc that is in­spir­ing. It’s also the hu­man, so­cial, and even hu­mor­ous sides, as well.”

Af­ter lunch on that Fri­day, hopes of tour­ing the styling stu­dios and see­ing the dig­i­tal de­sign process were dashed.

We were dragged away to Ane­choic Cham­ber Build­ing 2 for a tu­to­rial on how to cre­ate warn­ing chimes. (In­dus­try se­cret: two guys and a key­board.) In an­other test cell, two more guys de­scribed sub­ject­ing a pro­to­type to elec­tro­mag­netic in­ter­fer­ence. Then we got back on the bus and left Namyang, but not be­fore se­cu­rity checked those “Do Not De­tach” strips.

The next day, Don­ck­er­wolke flew to Cal­i­for­nia. He flies of­ten, vis­it­ing the stu­dios in Irvine, Cal­i­for­nia, and Rus­selsheim. Rare op­por­tu­ni­ties aside, his achieve­ment in lur­ing young de­sign­ers to Gen­e­sis and to Korea is not to be un­der­es­ti­mated. Seoul is nei­ther beau­ti­ful nor ugly, cars are ev­ery­where yet there’s no ev­i­dence of car cul­ture, and Kore­ans aren’t ex­actly known for achiev­ing a fa­vor­able life-work bal­ance. Nor is the task of cre­at­ing more than a generic brand to be un­der­es­ti­mated.

Al­though it’s yet an­other well-re­al­ized ve­hi­cle, there’s no dis­tinctly in­dige­nous as­pect to the G70, though the hot-rod GV80 cross­over re­vealed last spring in New York shows prom­ise. Don­ck­er­wolke ap­pears cog­nizant of the need to cre­ate more of a Korean iden­tity for the brand. “This in­ter­na­tional team we’re gath­er­ing is also there to make sure that we cre­ate prod­ucts based on the Korean cul­ture in terms of feel­ing. We have in Korea what we call “beauty of empti­ness.” [It] is not to over­load, not to stress the driver or the user with a lot of con­tra­dict­ing el­e­ments. So it’s about mak­ing an el­e­ment and mak­ing a state­ment and let­ting it be. This is why the in­te­rior is not over­pow­er­ing you.”

We await more beauty of empti­ness. Mean­while, Don­ck­er­wolke, who is also head of de­sign for Kia, had taken up a dif­fer­ent pre­oc­cu­pa­tion. Af­ter his visit to Cal­i­for­nia, he flew to In­dia in or­der to re­search the mar­ket. And he was ap­palled. Cars there have ter­ri­ble pro­por­tions: nar­row for maze­like streets but tall for tur­bans. Upon re­turn­ing to Namyang he could rum­mage through the props room, find a ma­gi­cian’s hat to fig­ure out a solution, and use his di­rec­tor’s bull­horn to an­nounce it. AM

Within es­tab­lished norms, the G70 is pre­cise, crisp, and well-con­toured. For Don­ck­er­wolke, start­ing with a low hood­line is key. If the G70 evokes snick­ers in Mu­nich, there will be smiles in U.S. show­rooms.

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