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Automotive News got hold of “an internal note” declaring that Hyundai Group design chief Luc Donckerwolke is stepping down today for “personal reasons.” After ex-Volkswagen Group pen Peter Schreyer took over Kia design in 2006 and began the South Korean automaker’s renaissance, Donckerwolke became the next VW Group design émigré to head east in 2015. He began his tenure in charge of Hyundai and Genesis, then took over as group design head when Schreyer stepped back from day-to-day operations in November 2018. Donckerwolke pushed for emotional products and brands that didn’t look like different-sized versions of one another, dividing the trio of company makes into sexy and sporty Hyundai, young and cool Kia, and haute couture Genesis. Two of the three brands are on their way. Kia’s got some top products but is still tweaking its formula.
The Belgian’s design résumé stretches back to his first job at Peugeot in 1990, where he stayed for two years before moving to Volkswagen. That’s where things get good, a 23-year run including work on the first-generation Skoda Octavia and Fabia, the Audi A2, A4 Avant, and R8 Le Mans race car, the Lamborghini Diablo VT, Gallardo and Murcielago, and the Bentley Flying Spur among many others. Credits at Hyundai include the Kona and Palisade, and at Genesis, the G80 and G90 sedans and the GV80 crossover. Considering Donckerwolke’s background, it’s no surprise to hear he opined for a Genesis supercar within a year of arrival at Hyundai, and had ideas about what he wanted to do. He said at the 2016 New York Auto Show, “I won’t reveal the secret now because it’s still my baby! Obviously, yes, this is part of the interest of designing a brand, being able to create [supercars]. It’s not just something which we’ll do, let’s say a rational traditional project, but there will be some highlights.” It’s too bad we’ll miss that.
Hyundai Group bosses won’t name a successor yet, leaving SangYup Lee as head of design at Hyundai and Genesis and Karim Habib, the ex-BMW and ex-Infiniti designer hired last year, in charge of Kia design. Donckerwolke issued a statement that read in part, “It’s been an honor and privilege to contribute to the shaping of the future of Hyundai, Kia and Genesis. Their audacious and progressive attitude has allowed me to push the boundaries and challenge the status quo.” We’ll let him say goodbye by giving a tour of the Hyundai Prophecy concept (above), another design on his watch that we’ll soon see in production.