You’ve probably heard of him: his name is Peter Schreyer and he is one of the foremost car designers of the last century. He made his name at Audi, before Kia snapped him up.
He’s now head honcho for Hyundai and Kia and has overseen a transformation in the company’s European fortunes. Both brands have gone from bargain-bucket, or “value” propositions to mainstay mass-market choices where tempting customer propositions such as a 7-year warranty have been matched by appealing design and good dealer service.
“There are so many new models of mobility,” Schreyer tells me. “So much new technology, new drivetrains. I was that the Beijing motor show and there are a lot of new electric things going on.” He starts sketching a car with a fossil-fuel engine, then the altered silhouette of a fuel-cell car. He’ll do this a lot for the next hour – sketch things rapidly with pencil on paper instead of explaining them verbally. It’s mesmerising to watch.
What, I wonder, has it been like to watch Hyundai and Kia rise through the ranks of popularity in Europe, culminating with the latest iteration of Sportage, a soft-roader that has been Kia’s runaway success. "Let’s face it,” says Chreyer. “We were a bargain brand – it was a budget thing. We knew when we joined that R&D was planning on an incredible improvement in quality. We had all those advantages, but it wasn’t going to be why people bought the brand.”
So Schreyer and his team set about drawing desirable cars they thought people might actually look and on the street and decide they wanted before they knew the badge. They worked hard, with the slogan "The power to surprise". “It was nice, but a challenge too,” says Schreyer.
Kia and Hyundai were split, design-wise, 10 or 11 years ago, when Schreyer and his deputy, Guillaume Gregory, arrived from VW Group (Gregory arrived shortly before Shcreyer).