Hyundai’s new design studio aims to speed up the process

on Aug12

The Hyundai Kona, front, and Genesis G80 bring a fresh design look. Photo credit: AUTOMOTIVE NEWS ILLUSTRATION

HWASEONG, South Korea — Hyundai Motor Group employees pride themselves on a frenetic corporate cadence dubbed Hyundai Speed, a kind of pedal-to-the-metal obsession with doing everything fast. Real fast.

It usually applies to production and engineering. But now, the Hyundai brand and its Genesis luxury stablemate are aiming to halve their product design cycles, slashing the time it will take them to roll out full model changes. It’s a bid to respond more quickly to changing trends and keep products fresh in an increasingly competitive market.

And it just may be the most audacious application of Hyundai Speed yet.

Donckerwolke: 25 vehicle projects at once

Luc Donckerwolke, senior vice president of design at Hyundai and Genesis, wants to slash the time it takes from the start of drawings to start of production from around three years today to as little as a year and a half. The speed-up is about to get rolling with the opening of a massive design studio at Hyundai’s sprawling Namyang R&D Center here, south of Seoul.

“As life cycles get shorter, they will get drastically shorter,” Donckerwolke said after a tour of the new facility last month. “I have no doubt design can be shortened by half.”

Donckerwolke predicted that, with the help of the new studio, his styling team can shave 30 percent off the typical design cycle in the next year and a half or so.

Work ahead

The gambit comes at a critical time as both Hyundai and Genesis embark on a new design language. At Hyundai, the fresh look will debut in the upcoming Kona compact crossover. At Genesis, it will take shape in the G70 sports sedan being unveiled in September and enter full bloom with the G80 sedan model change scheduled before 2020.

Speeding model changes is key to staying competitive as old guard auto giants such as Hyundai feel the heat from more nimble rivals, including Waymo and Apple from the fast-paced technology sector or electric car hopefuls such as Tesla and upstarts from China.

“This shows the commitment of the brands to leading by design,” said Lee SangYup, vice president for design at Hyundai and Genesis. “We needed a more streamlined process.”

When Automotive News​ visited the modern, window-lit studio, it was devoid of furniture and populated by dusty workers scurrying to add finishing touches. The design center is for Hyundai and Genesis; partner brand Kia has a separate facility at Namyang. Hyundai channeled $67 million into the center, which boasts design studios, expansive presentation spaces and copious clay modeling and 3D-printing capacity. The three largest 3D printers will be big enough to churn out half a car each, Lee said.

Covering 330,000 square feet, the studio is more than double the size of the old one and will house 400 workers. The airy presentation room has nine turntables and features a neutral-light, all-LED ceiling that mimics natural sunshine. Real sunlight floods in through a towering glass wall that opens onto a vast outdoor patio with five more turntables.

Elbow room

The extra elbow room is critical to taking long views of the vehicles that weren’t possible in the old design center’s cramped quarters. That will allow for better judgment of proportions and stance. Executives also won’t need to clear out of the review room to allow the design team to swap in new cars for viewed ones. Furthermore, the extra space will allow Hyundai and Genesis to compare their vehicles side by side with those of their competitors.

“It is better than any design studio I’ve had before,” said Donckerwolke, a Volkswagen Group veteran tapped in 2015 after working at Audi, Lamborghini and Bentley.

Perhaps most importantly, the studio will enable digitalized designing from start to finish, which makes it easier to share product plans with engineering early in the process. Better coordination with engineering is seen as key to speeding development time.

The studio is responsible for about 65 vehicle projects over the two brands and will be able to work on 25 at the same time, Donckerwolke said.

Hyundai and Genesis designers will sit in walled-off styling sections so the creativity of one brand won’t inadvertently influence the other, Lee said.

“We don’t want our brand to be called Hyundai-Genesis,” Lee said.

The first test of Hyundai’s quest for speed was simply finishing the design center. The styling workshop and studio spaces were empty chambers with nary a computer, clay mill or chair just weeks before the target move-in date, which was today, Aug. 14.

But Lee said it was operational a week earlier, on Aug. 7, and most people had already moved in.

“Here everything is so fast,” he said, “unbelievably fast.”

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