Hyundai Styling Group's SangYup Lee: 'We find design is the biggest reason for car purchase in India.'

by Sumantra B Barooah 26 Oct 2018


In an interview with Autocar Professional, SangYup Lee, vice-president, Hyundai Styling Group, talks about the new Santro, the rationale behind moving to a new design theme, and catering to the demanding Indian customer.

Could you tell us about the design theme? Earlier Hyundai followed the fluidic sculpture design. The Santro looks to be a departure from that.
Yes, fluidic sculpture is actually our fundamental theme to start with, where we got a lot of emotional sculptural character into the vehicle.  We have now evolved. We call this the 'sensuous sportiness'. The sensual character, which is actually not only on the sculptural side but also on the proportion and architectural technology, adding more emotional value to the car. I think this is very important.

We have eight different design centres globally including one in Hyderabad, India. We worked very closely with our Hyderabad studio to really sense as to what is the customer views in the Indian market for us, to be able to develop India-specific vehicles.

Are you saying that Santro is the beginning of a new wave of models from Hyundai, in terms of design?
The name 'Santro' is so important for Hyundai. This is how we started the business in India.

It is about the legacy, the legend, the icon. This is actually the car that is opening up the new era of design in Hyundai. The i10 and the i20 are getting old and the new ones will come in. There will be quite a few launches in 2019 and we will continue on with this new sensuous, sporty design, which will attract a lot of emotional value for the customer to capture. The perfect car to start this is a Santro.

Will the new models including the compact SUV which is coming next year have the same 'sensuous sportiness' design?
Absolutely, but not in literally the same way. We will create multiple different faces. Earlier, we did the same face in all the cars. We don’t do this anymore, the customer’s youthful mind is now more mature. They have different desires for aesthetics.

We won’t have a youth face or straight face-feeling car for each customer. I’ll say the Santro face and the new compact SUV coming next year will be very different. But when they get together, you will easily recognise it as a Hyundai. It is almost like a chess.

The family look is almost like the Russian doll (design). Just like in chess, there is a king, queen, bishop and knights. They all look different and they function different. But when they get together, they work as a team. Obviously for us the Indian market is so important.

The brand legacy for Hyundai is gold here. Indian customers are different, they are not easy customers. We found through our internal research that the biggest purchase reason for the vehicle here in India is external styling, it was more than 40 percent.

People account a lot on the design and character. The customer wants absolute maximum practicality. When you have an extreme design with absolute practicality, it is a challenge. Because of this challenge we are always keeping the fresh input being creative designers. Obviously, the reason for launching the Santro once again, is because this car is very important for us.

From the start (of the project) I was telling our designers, 'Santro is a family car, it is an entry-level small segment car, but we shouldn’t make the car look cheap. It has to have the feelings of being premium.'

The Santro's grille design looks quite unconventional. How did you arrive at the design?
The grille is something that we are actually very proud of. We have developed a car, keeping in mind the cooling requirement, which is so important for the Indian market. The temperature here is warmer than most other countries. So, before we finalised (the design) a big grille in the front, we actually put the big grille in the clay model. In a small car, the big grille added a lot of personality into it.

So we decided why not stretch it all the way to the corner and have fog lamps also incorporated into the grille shape? As you see, the car has a strong and a very unique character. One thing that I particularly like is the fog lamp, which is almost like an extension of the cascading grille. Normally, the fog lamp sits very low and because of the position in the corner, it is easy for it to get damaged.

By doing (design) this, we moved up the fog lamp and it is actually protected by the grille shape as it is sitting at a high position. This is a very unique design approach, and at the same time it gives it a very unique design appeal. We call this the smiling face.

Additionally to the smiling face it also has a strong character, with the grille really wide and the headlamps on the top. 

Cost must have been a big factor while designing. Did you work with suppliers to arrive at the launch price?
It is really the barriers we have to prioritise on. We worked very closely with the suppliers in terms of quality, finishes and anything that actually stands out in the market. We have to challenge every other detail in the sub-compact segment.

As you know, the compact car segment in India is very tough, a lot tougher than it used to be. If you actually only take a look at benchmarking the car, to be only a bit better, then you are not going to survive, especially for/with a brand like us.

Also read: Hyundai revives Santro in India, launches entry-level variant at Rs 389,900