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Hyundai Design Director SangYup Lee on the company’s future of design

Twenty years ago, Hyundai was known for its bland, cheap A-to-B transportation. It is hard to imagine that the company has ever built a reputation for innovative and stylish vehicles. But with bold designs like 2023 Palisade and the classic future Ioniq 5, Hyundai has now become a leader in design. We spoke with Hyundai’s Chief Design Officer, SangYup Lee, at the New York auto show, and he gave us an insight into the company’s current and future design philosophy.

sangyup lee, design hyundai

LMC / Hyundai

Hyundai has established its eye-catching style with the large grille that dominates the faces of its petrol-powered models. While some of these nets, like parrots, have holes in them Sonata and Santa Femade cars look like hungry catfish, Hyundai hit a road home with armor-like mesh in 2022 Tucson and Santa Cruz. Both models disguise the daytime running lights as part of the grille – which Hyundai calls a “hidden gem” design – and Lee says the positive feedback on the Tucson has prompted the grille design to spread. extended to Palisade 2023. He explains: “This is a very unique feature, so we wanted to really capitalize and make a statement.

2023 hyundai palisade

2023 Palisade.

Michael SimariVehicle and Driver

At the same time, Hyundai has tried to create a line of EVs that are sharp and recognizable without relying on the same design elements. “In the EV era, the grille is no longer necessary,” says Lee. “Bringing the traditional ICE element to the future, that’s probably not the right move.” Instead, Lee says that “light signature is more important than grille shape,” and a look at the Ioniq 5 suggests that’s the case. 5 is a first for pixel graphics, will span the Ioniq lineup and give it an 80s video game feel while still looking fresh and futuristic. We have seen pixels appear on The concept of prophecypreview the upcoming episode Ioniq 6and Seven conceptswill become Ioniq 7 in 2024. “None of them have a grille, but the consistency is the pixel lights,” says Lee. “When you see the pixel lights, it’s a Hyundai.” While other automakers – specifically BMW, Mercedes and Audi – have included fake grilles on their electric vehicles, Hyundai won’t as long as Lee is in charge.

hyundai ioniq 7 concept

Seven concept.


Prior to working at Hyundai, Lee designed for General Motors and Volkswagen Group, creating stunning cars like 2006 Camaro concept. While Lee enjoyed his time at those manufacturers, he said working at Hyundai was a breath of fresh air. “Bentley’s legacy is unbelievable,” he said. “But the weight of heritage on your shoulders is quite heavy, so when you do the sketch, you ask, is this Bentley enough?

“With Hyundai, you have more freedom, because the Korean brand has almost no fixed design line,” he said. Lee sees his time at Hyundai as an opportunity to write history: “What you’re doing is part of what will become a brand legacy.” Hyundai’s approach is also more consumer-focused, which Lee likes. “Sometimes I spend hours in a Costco parking lot, studying how customers react to the car, how moms put their kids in the back seat, how they put things in the back door,” he says. “It was the inspiration.”

This freedom from a design heritage at Hyundai is enhanced by the absence of constraints when it comes to electric vehicle design. While car designs are constrained by their powertrains and chassis, “the EV skateboard platform gives us more freedom.” This allows for the eradication of the traditional automotive segments; The Ioniq 5 is a prime example, its hatchback proportions based on the vehicle’s SUV size and 118.1-inch wheelbase. Lee made a disturbing remark that the future “could be all-boxes with interior space”, but at least for now, Hyundai will continue with the two-box design, with Lee promising ” all of our Ioniq EVs will have the longest wheelbase in the market.”

These stretchable wheelchairs open up so many possibilities. Lee said he was recently in Korea and saw an Ioniq 5 in an apartment parking lot. “There was a father and a son and they put a small table behind the front row and were studying together in the car,” he said. “Maybe they both got kicked out of the house by their moms,” he jokes, but the Ioniq 5 is effectively adding another room to their apartment. “This space revolution is key for EVs,” concludes Lee. “How you use this space is an open chapter for designers.”

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