Luc Donckerwolke, 52, is head of design for Hyundai Group’s Kia and Genesis brands. He will soon take over Hyundai as well when present overall design leader Peter Schreyer departs for a well-merited retirement. Donckerwolke rose meteorically in the design business, but I first knew him as a student in Switzerland in 1992, and his first job as a stylist was with Škoda, then just acquired as a Volkswagen satellite. He did a great job, enough to get him sent to Lamborghini in Italy, where he was nominally in charge. Donckerwolke then led Seat design in Spain, where he created its new design center. Born in Peru, Spanish was not a problem for this polyglot creator. He enjoys living in Korea, noting that “Korean food is really healthy.” Hyundai’s rise to being a huge force in the car world has been as quick as Donckerwolke’s in design. They go well together.
Automobile Magazine: Luc, have you learned Korean yet?
LD: Not yet. I’m not reading and writing, but I manage to communicate verbally a little.
AM: How many languages does this make?
LD: Only eight.
AM: Where was this design done?
LD: In California and Korea, with the final clay model executed in Irvine, California, and both concept and production versions were worked on in both places.
AM: Are you aiming at a specific Korean look?
LD: We need brand identity but for world markets, not a strictly Korean look. I see a specific aesthetic in Korea, a sense of space and the beauty of emptiness in a quiet environment. We are looking for that in our cars, with clean surfaces, space as clear as possible in the interiors, and using the functions of light. That’s distinctly Korean.
AM: Will any distinct traits apply to all three brands?
LD: We’re aiming at a sporty attitude and a sense of musculature, as in thoroughbred horses.
AM: How do you manage studios in Korea, the U.S., and Germany?
LD: A lot of time on planes. I’ll fly to California on Friday then come back to Korea on Saturday, effectively spending two nights sleeping on the flights. For the first two years my family is staying in Germany, and I see them when I can. It is too complicated to bring them here while I learn the job.