Peter Schreyer is marking ten years of leading new car design for Kia, a period during which the Korean brand’s global sales have risen from around 1.1 million cars in 2005, to 3.05 million in 2015.
Schreyer has been the mastermind of Kia’s design revolution over the last decade, a shift which has fundamentally altered the way in which the company’s models are perceived around the world. Having joined Kia Motors in 2006 as Chief Design Officer, Peter Schreyer is now President and Chief Design Officer of Kia Motors Corporation.
Establishing Kia’s new image
Kia had been making improvements for a number of years up to when Schreyer joined in 2006. The brand introduced the new European-built cee’d and its unique 7-Year, 100,000 mile warranty to Europe in the same year, and expanded its global manufacturing capabilities as new models entered production.
Customers around the world were opening their eyes to the value and quality of Kia cars – and Schreyer’s fresh design viewpoint provided the impetus for the transformation of the brand and its image, matching Kia’s increasingly global outlook.
Schreyer explains: “When I started at Kia, it was important that we established an identity and a consistent feeling across the brand. But the story of how our new vehicles came to life is about so much more than just aesthetics. It involves intricate choices in how complex ideas work together to create something that generates an emotional response.”
In the following years, this vision resulted in the establishment of a consistent design DNA across the growing Kia model line-up, with recognisable signature elements featured in a number of new designs, such as the tiger nose grille which can be seen in various forms on all Kia vehicles. Schreyer’s direction has helped Kia establish a clear identity, raise brand awareness, and put into production a series of modern, progressive new car designs.
‘Korean Cool’: the inspiration behind the designs
As Kia has transformed its model range, the proliferation of Korean culture around the world – K-Pop, ‘Gangnam Style’, modern architecture in Kia’s own Korean domestic market, and the appreciation of Korean art, to name a few – has helped inspire Schreyer and his design teams.
Schreyer commented: “For designers, it’s important to not only look at cars, but to be interested in architecture, art, music, industrial design…all sorts of things. They are influencing us and we are influencing them. People now know more about Korea, and about what’s going on there. On the one hand you have this ‘heartbeat’ when you go to Seoul, and on the other hand you have the silence, the concentration. Both of these things inspire me and our designers.”
It’s this contrast that has inspired the design language of Kia’s models. Schreyer explains: “We have this treasure where we can find inspiration in art, and simplicity – the luxury of empty space and surfaces. It’s very simple but it’s done with a lot of diligence and concentration.”
Schreyer’s design philosophy is borne out of this Korean inspiration: ‘the simplicity of the straight line’, which characterises every one of the designs he has overseen. The growth of a truly global network of designers has led to different interpretations of this approach, with design centres now established in California in the USA, Frankfurt in Germany, and at the company’s Namyang R&D centre in Korea.
Changing perceptions of the Kia brand
The 2010 Kia Optima, one of the first Kia models to be designed entirely under the direction of Schreyer, is seen today as the catalyst for the recent design-led transformation of Kia’s product range. As well as offering new technology and greater refinement than its predecessors, the Optima’s design added depth to the Kia model line-up and fundamentally changed the way people saw the Kia brand in markets all around the globe. The newest generation Optima, launched earlier this year, also retains this unique personality.
The Europe-only cee’d is also a model with significant Schreyer influence. The original cee’d made its debut at the Paris Motor Show in 2006 – at the same time as Kia introduced Schreyer. Their simultaneous arrival meant that Schreyer was able to influence only the smallest details of the car’s design, but the current model, which came in 2012, was created entirely under his watchful gaze.
In addition to the Optima, cee’d and every production model since, Schreyer has also directed the creation of a number of design concepts, exploring and pushing the boundaries of Kia’s design capabilities. Concepts such as the 2012 Track’ster, 2014 GT4 Stinger and 2010 Ray have shown an exciting vision of future Kia designs, and have helped establish greater depth and a global outlook to Kia design as a whole.
Schreyer’s favourite designs from recent years include the Soul, which “changed the brand” with its stand-out looks and cool, alternative image; and the new Optima Sportswagon, a true “European lifestyle car” which went on sale on 15 September this year.
The stunning, “forward thinking” Kia GT Concept was launched at the Paris Motor Show in 2011 and suggested what a four-door sports sedan from the company could look like.
The GT Concept also happens to be Schreyer’s favourite design of all: “You know when you have more than one kid; you can never say which your favourite is. You love them all. I also do, with all the cars I’ve designed, but there is one that stands out a little bit, I must admit. The GT Concept was a dream project for me and our designers because we got the chance to make a real GT, a car where you can travel in style.”
The future of Kia design
Design has played a key role in transforming the perception of the Kia brand and its products over the last few years – and the company will continue with this design-led approach for many years yet. New launches in new segments over the coming years, and the ongoing rebirth of new model generations, mean that Kia design will continue to be at the heart of the company’s success in future.
Schreyer concludes: “What really excites me is how fast this company is evolving. The brand as you knew it 10 or even five years ago is gone. You can see it in even the smallest detail. You can feel it in the sophisticated textures and materials. And you experience it in ways that are inter-related and connected. As we move forward, it’s important that change is an improvement and not just for the sake of looking different.”