In the previous part of this story, we looked at how Hyundai has moved on to the next phase of its evolution. Instead of focusing on just undercutting rivals on price and matching them on reliability, the Korean carmaker is now pushing tech and design in a move to make its cars desirable. This approach can already be seen on new “Fluidic Sculpture” models like the Sonata and Tucson.

The company’s fresh “New Thinking, New Possibilities” motto carries the idea of “Modern Premium”, which believes that the new premium isn’t always the most expensive or feature laden. Like the Apple iPhone 4 and Starbucks coffee, they’re desirable, but also relatively accessible. And one of the main pillars of MP is design.

Who better to talk about design than the designer himself? Here, we have a chat with Casey Hyun, Creative Design Manager at Hyundai and also the lead designer of the Sonata YF. What does he do? Which car design does he admire the most?

Continue reading after the jump.

Tell us more about your job, and what’s your role in the process of creating a new design, or direction such as Fluidic Sculpture?

My job basically involves two things. I work as a design project leader for any given project. Secondly, I am responsible for the development, refinement and implementation of Hyundai’s design philosophy (Fluidic Sculpture) on to Hyundai’s vehicles.

I won’t say I am in charge of the whole thing (VP of design is the person for that), but with a small chosen group of designers, I (team leader) was the one who refined and made the design philosophy a reality.

What are the projects that you’ve worked on in Hyundai?

I have done few cars including the exterior design of the i30 (senior designer and exterior designer), the new Sonata YF (lead designer exterior/interior for advanced product styling) and the new Accent (exterior advanced product styling). I have done more projects since, but until the release of the car, I won’t be able to disclose them.

Hyundai has got reliability and quality covered. Now there seems to be a design offensive to lure people to the brand? Can you comment on this?

Yes. The slogan New Thinking, New Possibilities and Modern Premium both have a strong sense of the brand trying to give more to the customers than just value for money and quality. We as a brand are trying to sell values to people, and design with definitive direction is the best way to communicate with the world.

Did the design team have to really fight and push for the recent bold designs? Are the top brass open minded in this respect? Or is there a lot of freedom given since Hyundai wants design to be a main element? 

It wasn’t easy in the beginning trying implement the design philosophy to the actual car, because before Fluidic Sculpture, brand quality was the most important thing.

But when the design centre developed FS, top management including the Vice Chairman of R&D and the Vice Chairman of the company (Chung Eui-sun, son of Chairman Chung Mong-koo) were fully supportive of it, and it was clear that Hyundai’s new design philosophy had undisputed support from everyone to be successful.

Tell us more about Modern Premium

Modern Premium is about giving the customers value that goes beyond things such as cost. It is about giving people a sense of belonging to the brand, giving satisfaction that’s greater than what a long warranty or cost savings can give.

I would say as an example, driving a car that makes people turn and look, or driving a car which not only is fuel-efficient and eco-friendly, but which also depicts those values with design and brand image.

New Thinking, New Possibilities. Can you tell us more on this new motto from a design perspective?
New Thinking, New Possibilities is a slogan which our brand is trying to communicate with people. Just like Modern Premium, through NTNP, design is trying to come up with new and different ways of showing the brand value to our customers. 

Another brand whose recent designs have been quite captivating is sister brand Kia. How does Hyundai’s direction/position differ from Kia’s? By the way, do you work together? 

No, we do not work together and we don’t get to see their designs either. We believe that the best way to give each brand its own identity is to completely separate them.

Hyundai’s way is more refined, and its form is influenced and derived from nature. Kia, as far as we are aware, is directed towards more bold and simple design.

What do you drive or wish to own? What car designs do you admire? 

The automobile for me is a way of expressing my talent and my creative vision. Surprisingly, I am not a real car buff. I could do without it, and I actually do not own a car. My wife owns one, but I won’t tell you what is it!

As for the best car design ever, excluding cars before I was born (Casey is 36), it has to be the previous generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W220) designed by Steve Mattin. Best in terms of proportion and balance, even when sitting on just 16-inch wheels.

Also, it completely moved away from the car which it replaced, which itself is a big big task, where there really is no blueprint for success, and things had to be built from ground up. There was unbelievable pressure to be successful (the S-Class is after all the flagship of the brand), yet he chose a completely new path, and came up with a design which was just perfect in all sense.