Hyundai, Hoping to Avoid Falling Behind Again, is Slashing Its Product Design Cycle in Half

Getting a new or redesigned model off the drawing board and into showrooms isn’t like designing and posting a meme on Facebook. It’s time consuming, and automakers run the risk of being left behind as rivals cash in on the latest hot bodystyle or styling trend.

Hyundai knows this, having underestimated the buying public’s affection for anything with a high ride height and rear liftgate. The Korean automaker made a bundle on its well-fleshed-out car lineup following the recession, but the seismic shift towards SUVs and crossovers left it scrambling to bolster its three-vehicle utility lineup. The result? Stagnant sales.

This won’t happen under a new plan, the company’s senior vice president of design claims. Hyundai’s hitting the product throttle.

Speaking to Automotive News, Luc Donckerwolke claims Hyundai’s product design cycle will soon drop from three years to 1.5 years, increasing its competitiveness. Rushing vehicles to production isn’t without risk, but the opening of Hyundai’s massive, $67 million Namyang R&D Center near Seoul should help when it comes to avoiding missteps.

“As life cycles get shorter, they will get drastically shorter,” Donckerwolke said. “I have no doubt design can be shortened by half.”

The automaker’s design head feels his styling team should have the development period shaved by 30 percent within a year and a half. All the better for Hyundai, currently in the midst of a product push. The next new product, the controversially styled Kona subcompact crossover, arrives stateside in early 2018. Other utility vehicles carrying Hyundai and Genesis badges are scheduled for arrival in the near future.

That styling team’s responsibility includes transferring elements of the Kona to redesigned Hyundai crossovers. Among them, a revamped Santa Fe and Tucson. Due to its premium status, Genesis’ future models will go their own way, stylistically. Also, for the sake of the fledgling brand, they’ll need to show up sooner rather than later.

Genesis wants its U.S. dealers separated from Hyundai retailers as quickly as possible in a bid to lessen confusion surrounding the brand and pick up a little exclusivity. Currently, there’s only two models inhabiting Genesis showrooms — the midsize G80 and full-size G90 sedans, with a smaller G70 on the way. But, as Hyundai saw with its namesake brand, it’s utilities buyers want. The sooner Genesis stocks its showrooms with utility vehicles (there’s two on the way), the better for everyone involved.

Lee SangYup, vice president for design at Hyundai and Genesis, admits, “We needed a more streamlined process.”

There’s apparently no lack of room at the new R&D center, which Hyundai claims can have teams working on 25 vehicle projects at a time. (The center itself oversees 65 vehicle projects covering the Hyundai and Genesis brands.) Tellingly, despite all the open space — which gives engineers a chance to stare at an unfinished product form some distance away — there’s a big wall between the Hyundai camp and Genesis crew.

“We don’t want our brand to be called Hyundai-Genesis,” Lee said.

[Image: Hyundai]

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