There’s a very strong case to be made that the cars we drive are influenced, at least in part, by suits in automaker C-suites. Witness the ongoing transformation at Toyota, which has finally shifted back to making cars with a pulse, machines crafted at the behest of noted gearhead Akio Toyoda. Sure, there are hundreds or thousands of people working on any particular project at a given time, but the Big Cheese often influences decision making – intentionally or not.
This is why we sat up and took notice when Hyundai shuffled a brace of people largely responsible for the styling and driving feel of vehicles in that automaker’s showrooms.
When the South Korean giant lured Peter Schreyer from Audi and, later, Albert Biermann from the BMW M division, it was seen as a couple of coups for Hyundai – gambles that seemed to pay off for both the individuals and the company over time. With the addition of former Bentley designer Luc Donckerwolke, the Hyundai Group had a who’s-who of vehicle design and development. Efforts paid off in the form of their excellent Palisade, selling-for-over-sticker Kia Telluride, and rockets like the Elantra N. Even if these men didn’t have direct input into one or more of those rigs, their outsized resumés surely had an influence in some form or another.
Now, there are changes. Peter Schreyer and Albert Biermann will now serve as advisors in their respective fields. Schreyer will work as a design advisor and help the Group foster talented designers while also serving as a brand ambassador. Biermann will work as a technical advisor and help the Group’s efforts to develop new engineering talent. He’s been at the R&D head table since 2018 after joining Hyundai three years prior and will be replaced by Chung Kook Park as the new head of the R&D Division. Meanwhile, Schreyer has been around since 2006, moving into the President of Design Management role in 2018. The new Head of Hyundai Global Design Center will be SangYup Lee, also the company’s new executive vice president.
What does all this mean for the Hyundai and Kia brands? It’ll not go unnoticed the shoes of both men were filled with well-qualified locals, rather than people from other brands. Schreyer and Biermann are well into their 60s, as if that means anything these days, and have been toiling at the company for a number of years. Perhaps retirement really is the reason, though having two big influences moved to advisory positions at the same time could portend a forthcoming shift in design and driving philosophy. We hope not, as the existing roster of machines is – mostly – very attractive (or at least tremendously appealing to their intended demographic). We will note Hyundai, and most other automakers, are on the cusp of going fully electric within the next few years. Perhaps this hastened the desire for a change in scenery.
Will these two execs have the same influence as advisors? History suggests they might not. A couple of rockstars who helped create some excellent vehicles during the company’s gasoline era will hopefully not find themselves shut out in their advisory roles.
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