Eduardo Ramírez is Hyundai’s head of exterior design at the European headquarters in Wiesbaden, near Frankfurt, and although his work is between Germany, Korea and the different motoring events that he goes to with his team in search of inspiration, he has done a gap in his agenda to visit the Master’s Degree in Automobile Design taught at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, a master’s degree that has been active for twenty years and is well known at Hyundai, as some of its students have worked for the brand .
The visit coincides with the thirtieth anniversary of Hyundai in Spain, a unique opportunity to interview the designer and analyze the present and future of the world’s fourth-largest car manufacturer.
What do you think about the design school in Valencia?
I have been pleasantly impressed, both with the facilities and with the level of student work. I already had some references from designers who worked with us and who studied here, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet her. In addition, Valencia seems to me to be a pleasant place to learn design.
How did you become a designer?
I was born and raised in the Canary Islands, a land with a great love of rallying, so whenever I could I saw cars like the Lancia Stratos racing on the roads, and I wanted to design them. After finishing my studies in Spain, I wanted to study architecture because I didn’t know about the existence of automobile design schools, but I found a friend who was going to study at the Royal College of London and I studied that specialty. After graduating, my goal was to work in Italy, but I was contacted by Audi, where I started my career. Later Opel signed me up for his department and I was designing models for the German brand and Saab, especially from the last period of the Swedish firm. Fifteen years ago I joined Hyundai where I am the Head of Exterior Design, reporting to our Head of Design, Thomas Buerkle.
How would you explain the change in the design of the brand in these thirty years that it has been in Spain?
Hyundai is a firm that has achieved everything with a lot of effort, with three generations in a company that started with a car repair shop and is now one of the world leaders. That can only be achieved with a lot of creativity, and in fact the founder of the company always asked when faced with a refusal, have you tried it? Hyundai used to be a brand of discreet designs, accepted by a large majority, but today on the streets of South Korea more than seventy percent of the cars are Hyundai or Kia, which belongs to our industrial group, so we have to be more and more groundbreaking.
How is this trend reflected in the new models?
From the design team we want to surprise, and we want designers who let their imagination run wild. Only in this way can designs such as the Tucson or the Ioniq 5 be launched, very different from each other, but with qualities to become iconic. The same applies to the Staria, a vehicle on which I have worked together with a designer who is no longer at Hyundai but who trained here, at the Master of Design in Valencia, and who is absolutely groundbreaking in his class. .
What makes a design iconic?
May it be remembered and recognized by the people. Sometimes because of its simplicity, as was the case with the first Hyundais, and sometimes because of its differentiation, like the first Coupé. Today we work so that each design is special, in the Tucson you see a front without main headlights, integrated in the grille, and the Ioniq 5 and Staria have very avant-garde solutions in terms of image, which makes them recognizable at first glance. The same happens in the sports range N.
How is a car designed today?
The available tools always influence the design. For example, in the seventies the Italians worked with hard materials and the cars had very sharp lines; but in the United States they worked with clay so the shapes were much freer. Now you work digitally, and you can do even the smallest detail with great precision, but you have to know how to control it to continue taking into account the main thing: the first impression that the car gives you.
How long does it take from sketch to production?
Sketches can be digitized very quickly, and the use of common technical platforms reduces engineering time, so that in three years we can go from sketch to manufactured car. Digital tools not only allow design work to be done faster, but also decision making. before I used to travel to Korea every month, now we have virtual reality meetings, with the car perfectly visible and our colleagues from Korea by our side virtually to be able to discuss details of the design. The first time we held a meeting of this type I told my wife “today I have been to Korea”. That means more options can be presented, discussed with management and experimented with more… it has many benefits besides saving time.
What are the main values in Hyundai design?
Our slogan is ‘progress for humanity’ and we are incorporating that into all cars, such as the electric Ioniq 5, which was designed from the inside out, first creating a space in which traveling and living together is truly pleasant, and then designing the exterior , or in the Staria, where we have lowered the line of the windows so that the passengers look more at the outside that surrounds us. Today everything changes, and for each design we must take into account new types of use of the car. For example, in the Hyundai Seven prototype, designed during the pandemic, we made the interior more protected and pleasant, with the feeling of security of being at home.
How does the arrival of the electric, hydrogen and autonomous car change design?
It gives us more freedom. The traditional combustion car needs certain proportions for the mechanics or a cooling grill, with the electric car we have a blank piece of paper to define the proportions and we want to make the most of that freedom that we now have.
How does sustainability or ecology influence your department?
We are very aware of the social responsibility of the automobile, but it requires a lot of research into materials and collaboration with other companies to be able to produce materials with less environmental impact that meet all the needs that a car requires. The same happens with production or energy sources, its impact must be reduced in collaboration with supplier companies.
How many design centers does Hyundai have?
We have the main design center in Korea with about 400 employees, followed by Frankfurt, California, Shanghai, and development offices in Yantai, China, India, and Japan. In total, although I don’t know the exact data, we have more than 500 people working.
What do you ask of future designers?
Let them be daring. We do not encourage specialties, each designer must have the ability to carry out any type of project. Once it is an SUV, another time a more commercial vehicle, a compact, a sports car… and also being able to do it mainly or as responsible for details such as headlights, tires, lights… We prefer that everyone be able to work on the entire vehicle and to work as a team in each of the projects.
Of all the range of models, which has been a greater challenge?
Starting something very new and groundbreaking always requires some risk. It is a challenge to dare to try and make decisions without having a guarantee of what the result will be, and that characterizes Hyundai’s bold attitude. An example that is giving us good results is the Ioniq 5, which has been a car designed in a very different way as it is the first to use the electric platform.
Where does a design team find inspiration?
We look at many different aspects of creativity. We avoid looking at things like car sales, we travel a lot, we get a lot of information. Knowledge is the basis for being creative. We encourage the team to be able to enrich themselves through trips to events of all kinds, for example, this year we will go to see the Goodwood Festival.
If you could create a car from scratch, what kind of car would it be?
A light, practical and fun one.
What car would you like to have that you don’t have in the range right now?
Hyundai has never had a convertible. It has not been one of the priorities in model planning, but I think there is always a desire to make a fun car with a youthful spirit.
What’s next at Hyundai?
The deployment of the Ioniq electric family will be very interesting, with models that are very different from each other and also different from the range known until now.