Donckerwolke steps down as design chief at Hyundai Motor Group

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TOKYO — Luc Donckerwolke, the cosmopolitan Belgian designer who overhauled styling at Hyundai, Kia and Genesis, is leaving the Hyundai Motor Group for personal reasons.

Donckerwolke’s resignation is effective April 29, according to an internal note obtained by Automotive News.

His next career moves were unclear.

Donckerwolke joined South Korea’s biggest automaker from Volkswagen Group in 2015 to lead design at the Hyundai and Genesis brands. He expanded that portfolio in 2018 to become chief design officer of the entire Hyundai Motor Group, taking over the Kia marque as well.

“It’s been an honor and privilege to contribute to the shaping of the future of Hyundai, Kia and Genesis,” Donckerwolke, 54, said in the statement. “Their audacious and progressive attitude has allowed me to push the boundaries and challenge the status quo.”

Hyundai Motor Group will not name a successor as chief design officer for the entire group. Instead, SangYup Lee will continue in his role as head of design for the Hyundai and Genesis brands, while Karim Habib will remain at the helm of Kia after being poached from Infiniti last year.

Peter Schreyer, the German designer who was hired away from the Volkswagen Group and catapulted Hyundai design into global prominence, remains at the carmaker. He is president of design management, though he has stepped back from daily involvement of studios.

Like Schreyer, Donckerwolke joined the Hyundai Motor Group from the VW Group, where he oversaw the Bentley, Lamborghini and Seat brands in addition to designing for Audi.

In South Korea, Donckerwolke left his mark on a new generation of designs.

At the Hyundai brand, he moved away from a family look that was long cultivated in previous generations of vehicles to make vehicles in different segments look like scaled-up or scaled-down versions of each other. Instead, Donckerwolke pushed for more emotional, individually tailored styling that better matched the personality and aesthetic of each nameplate.

The new design language, dubbed Sensuous Sportiness, was created with Lee and is being rolled out now in such vehicles as the redesigned Sonata sedan and the Palisade crossover.

At Genesis, Donckerwolke played a pivotal role in giving the upstart premium brand an independent identity and helped it achieve a clean break from holdover Hyundai styling.

Genesis’ latest makeover aims for “athletic elegance” with an imposing crest grille, an arching parabolic character line that accentuates the sides and distinctive “two lines” signature quadlamps up front. The styling debuts in the new GV80 crossover and G80 sedan.

Donckerwolke presided over the opening of an expansive, state-of-the art design studio for the Hyundai and Genesis brands at the group’s Namyang technical center south of Seoul. And he helped usher in a new era of digital design work that leverages virtual reality.

Albert Biermann, head of Hyundai Motor Group’s R&D division, praised Donckerwolke’s contributions to lifting the image of the group’s brands.

“He has been a great inspiration for all of us,” Biermann said, “as a remarkable leader who successfully transformed the company’s design operations, taking it to the next level.”

Donckerwolke’s commercial and concept models garnered numerous honors for the Hyundai, Kia and Genesis brands, including Red Dot Design Awards, Idea Design Awards and iF Design Awards. In February, Donckerwolke was inducted into AutoBest’s DesignBest Hall of Fame.

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Saurabh Shukla

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