Luc Donckerwolke, Chief Design Officer for the Hyundai Group, has resigned from his position effective today April 29, 2020, due to personal reasons. Donckerwolke’s decision to step down was a difficult — but necessary — one, forced by his grueling work/travel schedule and recent health issues.
“It’s been an honor and privilege to contribute to the shaping of the future of Hyundai, Kia and Genesis,” Donckerwolke told his team in a streamed video message presented from his home in Germany to his team in Korea. “Their audacious and progressive attitude has allowed me to push the boundaries and challenge the status quo.
“I have enjoyed the trust given to me by the group to create a design ‘dream team’ that has defined a DNA for the future of these brands and digitalization of their design processes.”
Donckerwolke, 54, shook things up when he joined Hyundai Motor from the VW Group back in 2016, taking current Hyundai brand design boss Sangyup Lee with him. Initially responsible for the Hyundai and nascent Genesis premium brand, Donckerwolke was promoted to the Chief Design Officer role in 2018, where he took on global design responsibility for Kia as well.
The Belgian designer — who has previously held roles at Bentley, Lamborghini, SEAT, Skoda and Audi — is a strong proponent of digital design, a process he intensely pursued to enable time and cost savings for the global auto giant. The recently completed design center in Namyang, a suburb of Seoul, is one of the most technologically advanced design facilities in the world.
Amongst his many achievements at the Hyundai Group, Donckerwolke will likely best be remembered for creating an emotionally charged design aesthetic for the Genesis premium brand, which was derived from three concepts. The GV80, breathtaking Essentia, and sweet Mint concepts were followed by the instantly recognizable ‘two-line’ DRG signature and sensual surfacing of the recently launched G80 sedan and GV80 SUV.
He was also responsible for leading the direction of Hyundai’s recent production models — including the Sonata, Palisade, Elantra and forthcoming Tucson — and the Le Fil Rouge, Concept45, and Prophecy concepts. The latter also signals a very emotional future design direction for the brand’s future models and is reportedly slated for production.
The fruits of Donckerwolke’s design input on Kia’s future model range remain to be seen. The first production vehicles created under his direction will likely debut next year.
During his tenure at Hyundai, Donckerwolke continued to work alongside Hyundai Group President of Design Management Peter Schreyer, a former VW Group designer who joined Kia from Audi in 2006. Schreyer is largely responsible for initiating Kia’s design-led approach, which has been universally lauded. Donckerwolke took over day-to-day leadership duties of the Group’s design activities in 2018, when Schreyer stepped down.
Sangyup Lee will now effectively absorb Donckerwolke’s responsibilities on the Hyundai side while recently hired Kia head of design Karim Habib will continue to lead Kia. Il-Hun Yoon and Simon Loasby, general managers of the Genesis and Hyundai brands, respectively, will also take on additional duties. Hyundai will reportedly not appoint a successor after Donckerwolke’s departure.
Donckerwolke is leaving the company at a high point in his career. In February, he was the youngest member to be inducted into the DesignBest Hall of Fame.
“During the last few years, we have recognized Luc’s impact at Hyundai and Kia, while he has also played a key role in shaping the Genesis brand. This and the most recent highlight in his career, being appointed as Chief Design Officer for the Group, lead us to make him a member of our unique Hall of Fame,” Dan Vardie, Founder and Chairman of AutoBest organization said at the time.
Hyundai has proven itself to be one of the leaders in the automotive design space since the appointment and rise of Peter Schreyer. The company has also spearheaded a number of initiatives in sustainable mobility – particularly electrification and hydrogen-fuelled vehicles. In the fast-approaching era of connected and autonomous mobility, the company is well-positioned to become one of the key players, creating new vehicle designs that are poised to adapt to disruptive change.