One half of my brain is focused on India alone, the other half is the rest of the world

Hyundai in recent years has benefitted from a different and young design approach globally. However pleasing Indian customers can be quite challenging even for the best designers in the world. SangYup Lee, Senior Vice President & Head, Hyundai Global Design Center had an interesting conversation with us and here's what we can expect.

By: | Updated: November 5, 2019 11:44 AM


Hyundai recently showcased its stunning 45 EV Concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show and the car instantly became a centre of attraction owing to its unique and futuristic design approach. Unlike present Hyundai cars, the 45 has a very different design philosophy and while this might be a concept there are elements from this design that will make their way into road cars soon. Aiming to get more information on the design we caught up with SangYup Lee, Senior Vice President & Head, Hyundai Global Design Center. He also talked to us about the unique challenges designers face when conceptualizing cars for the Indian buyers and what we can expect in the times to come, both in India and globally from Hyundai.

The 45 looks quite stunning and different from any other Hyundai presently. What is the inspiration for this design?

Proportionally, the car is very special. We use a long wheelbase and have a flat-floor, thanks to the battery. As a result of this, we have lots of space inside. Even though the car is more of a C-segment car, the interior space is bigger than C-segment. And also the flat-floor inside creates a space inside which is almost like a living room, gives a lounge feel. So on the inside, it is basically a lounge/living room and on the outside, it has a very nice stylish exterior. The design element itself is a re-look to our history. Because this is an autonomous EV, so it is a high-tech carb but at the same time, for the customer, when some time cars are super high-tech, they could feel a little bit cold emotionally. Hence, we wanted a nice analogue touch. A warm touch. So, we have combined the analogue and digital and call it the 'Digilogue'.

Hyundai did its first concept car in 1974, the Pony Coupe. And this was our inspiration. This is why this car is called the 45. Because of our 45th anniversary. Not only the styling cue but also the spirit. Back in the day, in 1974, nobody knew about Hyundai and all of a sudden, the brand came up and succeded so that challenger spirit is what we wanted to add in the car.

We studied a lot from the architecture of the early '70s. We call this a monocoque body. There is no shoulder, there is just one clean section. Because of this, we can make the beltline really low. This was quite popular back in the '70s and '80s. Today, nobody does it like this. Hence, all of a sudden it looks very fresh. The double headlamp and the double tail-lamp is inspired by the pony concept. The taillamps are high-tech but they use a dot pattern, so it looks like an '80s disco. And also the badge, not in the middle, but the side. This car is all about a homage to our heritage.

There is a lot of similarity between the Pony Concept and this new concept car but it is not a retro car. It is more of a modern interpretation of our heritage. It has a lot of angular surfaces, almost at a 45-degree angle. This adds a lot of character to it. There is an LED battery indicator inside, which you can see from the outside. In the photos, it seems that it has a flat body, but in reality, it has lots of curves.

Tell us a bit about this funky interior.

Moving on to the interiors, it is all about the lounge concept, a living space concept. We wanted to make the interior as comfortable as possible. You feel as if you are in a first-class lounge or your home. This is why we put the blind on the roof. So when the sunlights falls on it, it creates a very nice pattern. When you open the door, the seats revolve towards you. The cabin, rather than a driver's space, offers a lounge feel, almost like furniture design, rather than automotive design as that was the intention.

The cabin uses a lot of recyclable materials because sustainable development is not an option anymore. So there is recycled wool here along with recycled wood and recycled silk on the carpet and the floor. All the light that is inside the cabin is not direct light, but ambient light. It also works as light therapy. For instance in Delhi, outside you have cars with horns, it's all crazy, but inside, it's all soothing. The light changes according to your mood. So if you are stressed, the light will change to create a soothing mood.

There is a lot of open space inside the cabin. There is no console to deal with. And as a result of this, one can swivel around. Also, this is the reason why despite this being a C-segment car, there is a lot of space inside. We have even created a pillow for the rear passenger.

When can we start seeing more recycled materials in Hyundai's production cars?

We try a lot actually and we study a lot as well in this area but the main issue is the cost. We have to deliver the car at a certain price so it's all about the right balance. We want to be a leader on the sustainable materials side and for electric vehicles, it is even more necessary.

In India, most Hyundai cars follow the fluidic sculpture design. Do you intend to bring designs inspired from concepts such as the 45 to India as well?

That is actually a very good point. The Fluidic Sculpture is more of a language through which we wanted to convey the message. Now we are using the term sensuous sportiness. But it is not the shape of the vehicle or its proportions. It about emotional touch. We really wanted to create the brand Hyundai not only as a value for money proposition but also a car that touches the heart of the customer. This is why we study a lot of customers because Indian customers are different than American, American customers are different in comparison to European. We really study a lot of customer preferences in order to deliver a product that customer loves.

We know that in the Indian market, one of the strongest reason for a car purchase is exterior styling. Even though many prefer a high roof, it makes it challenging to give the car an emotional design. So we see if we can make a high roof and small wheel and still make the car emotional as it appeals to the Indian market. We are really focused on the Indian market. Right now, as you know, the market is quite tough and the car sales are not encouraging but we take that as an opportunity. One half of my brain is focused on India alone, the other half is the rest of the world I would say.

What is the main challenge you see in terms of design for the Indian market?

In my subjective opinion, Indian buyers are smart buyers as they are willing to pay but they don't pay for everything. So they actually define what is worth it and what is not. We really need to prioritise what is good for the Indian market, and what is not. For us, expressive styling is a very appealing factor. And also, the lamp character is very important. The interior, space, especially the rear space is very important for the Indian market. It is so important that I have to balance it with expressive styling. Obviously, the car ownership percentage, compared to the US and the European market is a lot low. However, the digital adoption in India is so advanced that even if you don't have a car you always have the latest smartphones. So, these days, a car has to follow the capabilities of smartphones. Which means cars have to be technologically advanced. So a reasonable price, emotional exteriors, the usability of the space on the inside along with advanced technology and combining all of this together is quite challenging.

New materials are helping save weight but they're expensive as well. From a designer's perspective, how can cost be reduced while lowering weight?

In order to reduce the cost manufacturability is extremely important. Yes, aluminium and carbon fibre are lighter, but they are a lot more expensive. The question here is, can we do something other than these two materials. So, instead of using multi-piece plastic, we make it in one piece and we try to use this approach in as many components as possible. This can be huge in terms of weight reduction on the car. So we are challenging every part of the design but not by adding new to the design but deduction of the design to make it more simple.

In terms of future products, what is the next big step we can see from Hyundai, both globally as well as from an Indian perspective?

We want to emerge as a more progressive brand for sure. What will distinguish Hyundai from any other brand, is that we will have a lot more focus on customers. Because normally, we make a car, we design it and we give it to the customer. But at Hyundai, we want to have the customer at the front and really understand him/her. We want to try to deliver the best product and exactly what customers want. This way we can create a nice story for the customer and then we deliver the car at the end. So this is the strategy we want to adopt for the future. It begins with the customer, instead of the customer coming at the end.


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