By Sandy Myhre
Busan is Korea’s second most-populace city next to Seoul. It is a port city in the south and on a sunny day in early June 2018, history was made, not in a way that is immediately apparent but significant nonetheless.
For the first time at an Asian motor show, three women journalists were there as a group, at the initiative of Hyundai.
The women are representatives of Women’s World Car of the Year and were there to present the trophy for Hyundai’s Ioniq model winning the 2017 Supreme Award.
Image from left: Sara Soria (Spain) Sandy Myhre (New Zealand), Peter Schreyer (Hyundai & Kia) Rita Cook, (USA) Zayong Koo (Hyundai) receiving the trophy and certificates for Hyundai’s Ioniq winning the 2017 Supreme Award in Women’s World Car of the Year.
The women journalists were given extraordinary and privileged access to some of the company’s top executives – a significant step forward for women and motoring. They travelled to Busan with Mr Zayong Koo, Vice President and Head of Global PR for Hyundai Motor Company.
Above image, from left – Sara Soria (Spain) Rita Cook (USA) Zayong Koo (Hyundai, Korea).
At the show, they sat down for a chat with automotive designer, Peter Schreyer, chief design officer at Kia Motors and Hyundai Motor Group and one of three presidents of the company. He is widely considered one of the most influential car designers in the world.
By any measure meeting Mr Schreyer is a privilege. He is automotive royalty and yet, given his seniority within both companies, he was remarkably candid with his conversation:
Designing Electric Cars:
“I think there are different philosophies. I don’t want to present a dogma because when you do an electric car you have different requirements. For example, you don’t need such a big opening for putting in fuel so automatically the car looks different.
In some ways we have a bit more freedom with an electric especially if it’s planned as only being electric. You can have a different layout, a different package, if you don’t have a combustion engine, exhaust pipes and so on all goes away so passenger seats can be done differently.
Some cars like the Ioniq is all three and you still have the outline of a combustion engine car. But also, it is nice as a designer to have the freedom to design an eco-friendly car or only an electric car to separate the design and make it special.
On the other hand, I think our target in the future must be that all cars are eco-friendly or getting more eco-friendly, this is our vision and what we need to do – and all cars have to look different, so we have to make progress in design.
Sometimes I think we shouldn’t separate the design but we should get all cars in the eco-friendly direction, we should all together have a big effort to improve fuel consumption because I think the internal combustion engine is not going away so soon.
Are there trends in car design?
“Yes of course. Look at the Tesla which is very successful – and there are other cars that make a difference. I think as designers if we have possibilities we will use them and make a step forward and think of everything to do with innovation.
In the beginning everybody made their eco-friendly cars white! It was a trend but for me it shouldn’t be like that, there are other ways. Green with a white roof? We need to look into that. It’s a lifestyle statement. If it’s a fashion statement.
At the moment, there is a bit change going on in the whole industry which has to do with the necessity of change, more eco-friendly cars and products but also with the new technologies that are coming up that allow different ways of approaching driving – autonomous and intelligence – and changing of society, talking about millennials.
I’m not an IT native, I was brought up with a big telephone! But my kids or grand kids are IT natives and they look at things in a more natural way and for us we say it doesn’t really work. If your phone doesn’t work you feel so isolated and we are dependant, it has changed our life completely and it will change more.
When we do a car, it needs to be attractive for everybody, men and women. We have quite a few female designers and it’s a wake-up call for me as a designer – sometimes you need a push to consider these things more. We are also on a treadmill, next product and so on and I think it’s a very important point.
Is there a difference between east and west?
The difference is in the way people use their cars. In America big cars are in the culture. In Europe you would see five door wagons which is a statement. In Asia nobody wants a wagon so tastes are very different.
But also in a way there is globalisation and discretion comes up – a Chinese product? American product? What is it? Maybe one way for a strong brand you need to look at a feeling and attitude, that’s important. Like a musical band has their own sound, you have to keep that character and look. On the other hand I think it’s important to look at all the markets because there are different ways of looking at the customers. In Korea, or NZ, Australia or China it is different from America. Maybe some countries want to be more expressive, maybe others want to be more subtle. It’s a cultural thing.
What are the expectations?
It’s a question of expectations towards price and quality. In some markets the expectations are high towards quality and high value materials and some other markets it’s more the price that’s important and for a lower price you can’t achieve high quality no matter how hard we try or what segment it is.
We have to give the customer that quality feeling, even if you buy a cheaper car you still spend a lot of money. You don’t want to enter a car and say it’s cheap! It’s the punishment. You should sit in your car every morning and think they thought about me, the way things are executed, the refinement. There’s a discrepancy between quality and price.
Is that to do with brand image?
Look at BMW, their brand image is very high, but they didn’t get it for free, they achieved it. It takes a lot of effort and time before you reach that level but there is a danger if you have that level and don’t fulfill that.
Is there a post-SUV design in the pipeline?
At the moment it’s only SUVs, the normal car is getting pushed aside even if there are some normal cars to buy. And the varieties are getting bigger – it started with the Range Rover and Jeep and now there is such a variety, rugged versions and at the other end they are almost street cars. We as an industry and at Hyundai are trying to find different body styles that still fulfil this concept.
The next step is that cars will have more electronic content, artificial intelligence, hydrogen cars in production, so it’s a constant flow of influences that come from society and from all sides. 10-15 years ago, there was only one type of SUV and now there are different characters. We have to explore all possibilities.
How is life for a German living in Korea?
I think Korea is a very interesting country. When I was working in Germany we thought we were the centre of the universe – which is very arrogant, but we thought we were the only ones who do it right but in Korea I see very smart, clever people who are ambitious and hard-working, and it was a very interesting experience and still is in a positive way to see there is another way!
What is your wife’s favourite car, and do you know her shoe size?
Ha, I’ve never been asked that before! As a man you don’t buy shoes for your wife – you buy shoes and she runs away! But, um, cars are different and she has a Kia Sorrento at the moment, she likes it for the dog as well, she likes a smaller SUV.”