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The Korean carmaker's new chief designer discusses developing the brand through design, especially given its European expansion drive
Kia scored big in July when it hired German design star Peter Schreyer from Volkswagen. During his eight years at Audi from 1994 to 2002, Schreyer shaped the look of the iconic TT roadster and the classic Bauhaus-inspired 1997 Audi A6 sedan, both of which helped turn Audi into an exemplar of great auto design.
In 2002, Schreyer moved over to Volkswagen, where he designed the hot Concept R roadster. But insiders say the talented German, who studied design at the Royal College of Art in London, fell out with VW Chief Designer Murat Gunak.
Kia recruited Schreyer to help inject European flair into its low-budget cars—a must for competing with the edgy French, a newly design-savvy Toyota, and even Fiat, which is striving to reinvent an alluring Italian look. Schreyer, 53, now heads Kia's global design center based in Frankfurt, Germany, with satellites in Los Angeles, Korea, and Japan. He spoke with Senior European Correspondent Gail Edmondson during the Paris Auto Show, which runs through Oct. 15. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.
How will you be changing Kia's design?
The cars I've designed in the past follow a philosophy: clear graphics and surfaces. They don't follow the dictates of fashion. Kia's new cars such as the Sorrento, the Sedona, and the Carnival show this direction, but I want to develop it further. Kia is a newcomer—people don't know the brand. It is anonymous. Design is important to overcoming that.
Will you be giving a German look to Kia's cars?
Kia wants to expand in Europe. Germany is a leader in design and in automotive design. Kia wants and needs a European flavor or design look. I can't avoid a certain Germanness. I have a certain handwriting and attitude—and you will find traces of it in the cars I design.
You are based in Frankfurt, where Kia is building a new design center. How do you coordinate the global design of Kia's cars?
We have three main studios, in Frankfurt, Korea, and Los Angeles. But you cannot sell the same car in the U.S. and Europe. The C'eed works for Europe. It's not a question of design language only, but also the entire concept of the car. When it comes to design, all of Kia's cars come from the same family. We have separated our German design studio from Hyundai so Kia can go its own way in design.
BMW's Mini sells very well in the U.S.
Mini has a very strong character. They also have very self-confident marketing. BMW does it well. But I believe Mini works because it is not too American.
Everyone wants emotional design in their cars today. Is that your goal, too, and if so, what will make Kia's emotional design stand out from the pack?
Many understand emotion to be curvy lines. It can also be the right stance and proportions. I'm very careful with the word emotional. I think it isn't design anymore, it's styling. It's cosmetic. I believe in proportions and character.