The man behind Kia’s remarkable turnaround, 34 design awards in 5 years.


    Peter Schreyer is a name most of you won’t be familiar with. He’s responsible for a new generation of vehicle design at Kia, most notably the current ‘Tiger Nose’ design. Schreyer is German and the ex head designer at Audi and VW so his resume is a robust one. After joining the Korean-based Kia, in September 2006, he set a new direction for the company.

    So important was Schreyer’s contribution to the company that at the end of 2012, he was elevated to president of Kia. Shortly after also took on the same challenge at Hyundai. At the time he said they were “committed to continuing design-led development” and that’s shown throughout products to date. There’s a lot of similarities between the revolution that occurred at this car company to what we see in consumer electronics and the likes of Steve Jobs at Apple. His design focus drove a generation of products that have changed the world.

    At Kia, the company has successfully transformed itself from a cheap and dirty brand, to a no well respected player to be respected. This brand conversion is one of the most difficult things to achieve but can be done by continually shipping great product. You won’t find a Samsung-sized marketing budget here, but rather great design and great prices.

    The Optima is the jewel in the crown with looks that’ll have you wishing it was yours. While local manufacturers complain that international competition is killing their business, they should take a long hard look at the reason why people buy cars. For too long car companies have been pushing safety and the number of airbags as one of the biggest points of differences. In reality we know by the time a car is on the market in Australia, it’s safe, or at least safe enough.

    People are inherently visual creatures and if your car doesn’t put a proud smile on your face every time you approach it, something has gone terribly wrong. Most manufacturers have amazing development teams that can dream big, and far into the future with concept cars. Unfortunately they’re marketing department gets hold of them and tones them down to a dull and boring copy of every other 4-wheel transporter.

    What it really takes to ship a car with a bold new design is a strong vision at the top that won’t accept anything less. Or quite simply what Schreyer said, a design-led development. This means the appearance of the car is the first priority, and sure they’ll tick the necessary feature boxes, but that never leaves the car looking like a Prius.

    If you have any doubt, watching Schreyer work is an absolute joy, his talents are clear and on display as he sketches in this video.


    Just to graphically demonstrate the transformation this company has achieved, here’s a commercial from 2000 where the Kia Carnival was being advertised by Greek-Australian actor Nick Giannopoulos (of Wog Boy fame). It’s terrible, makes a joke of the car and certainly doesn’t inspire customers to desire the vehicle.

    Now fast forward to the launch of the Kia Optima and watch this ad from Kia Canada, not only can they now brag about achieving a range of awards, but the whole ad shows of the gorgeous design of the car. The music, voice over, shot selection and editing all come together to showcase a grown up, refined Kia that isn’t here to make up the numbers, but is taking it to the major international auto manufacturers like Ford and GM.

    Kia is an company to watch and if anything, I’d like to see them ship an electric vehicle, something they have had in development for a while, but is not yet being sold in Australia. Of course you can’t design away the physics of battery chemistry, but to really be ahead of the competition in the next generation of vehicles, they need to be aggressive in that space.

    This post is authored by techAU staffers. Used rarely and sparingly when the source decided to keep their identity secret, or a guest author who isn't seeking credit.

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