Luc Donckerwolke, Genesis executive vice president and Global Head of Design, says that he didn’t need to change employers two-and-a-half years ago. After all, he’d been working at the Volkswagen Group since 1992, and just prior to joining Genesis in 2015 he was director of Design at Bentley, with such vehicles as the Flying Spur and the EXP 10 Speed 10 attached to his name. “But the opportunity was fantastic,” the Belgian says.
And he notes that he’s had the opportunity to attract other talent to his team, like SangYup Lee, who not only has Bentley on his résumé, but who is responsible for the exterior design of the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro, the expressive design that continues to be the basis for the look of that car. Bozhena Lalova, who was instrumental in the modernization of Mercedes interiors, is now heading up Color & Trim for Genesis. And Sasha Selipanov, who designed the Bugatti Chiron, now heads the company’s advanced studio in Russelsheim. Speaking of the team that they’ve established, a team with bona-fides that are nothing short of legendary (seriously: these folks have created masterpieces in their careers prior to joining up with Genesis and could have undoubtedly coasted for the rest of their days were that in their chemistry, which clearly it isn’t), Donckerwolke says, “This, for me, shows how fascinating this great unique opportunity, this adventure to create a new brand, is.”
A Quick Word About the Team & Digitalization
At the 2018 New York International Auto Show the Genesis Essentia Concept was unveiled. At the reveal, Donckerwolke noted of the design of the carbon-fiber-bodied electric vehicle, “A Gran Turismo typology highlights our ambition as a luxurious car brand for connoisseurs and it is the perfect base to project our DNA in the future.”
Which is to say that what the Essentia is is what they’re working to achieve throughout the Genesis vehicles to come. Realize that the name is based on a Latin word signifying something that is essential—which means not in the least bit superfluous—and you get an idea of where they are going.
But there is something notable about the way that the Essentia came to be, how it went from an idea to a show vehicle.
Donckerwolke says that Genesis has three studios. One is in Irvine, California. One is the aforementioned studio in Germany. And there’s the 270,000-ft2 studio in Namyang, Korea, that opened in 2017, a studio that is capable of accommodating as many as 24 vehicles, a studio that Donckerwolke describes as “the best studio of my career.” (He also says that it is the first studio that ever opened on the day that it was promised, which puts him in the position of not having “an excuse for not getting designs done on time.”)
Donckerwolke explains that having digital design skills is exceedingly important for the people who work in Genesis design. (“Can they still draw by hand?” I ask him. He assures me that they can, and says with a slight laugh that the legendary back-of-the-napkin sketch is something that still has resonance.)
He also says that “social competence,” being able to work with others, even though there may be some rather robust egos involved, is key: “We see members of our team more than our families,” Donckerwolke observes.
For the Essentia, there was the classic studio competition. But there was a difference. “We didn’t hide things and play tricks to win,” Donckerwolke says. “We were all one team.” As it turned out, the California studio won the interior and Germany the exterior. The team—the entire team—had to work fast: six months. That was it. Which was seemingly impossible. And given how the Essentia looks, improbable.
Donckerwolke explains that the way they got things done was to work by taking advantage of the differences in time among the studios. That is, when it is 1 pm in Los Angeles (GMT -8) it is 10 pm in Frankfurt (GMT +2) and 5 am the following day in Seoul (GMT +9). So when the day ended in one studio the digital files were picked up by another studio. Because they are acting as a team, not as solo artists or as the Californians vs. the Germans vs. the Koreans, the vehicle design was able to flow.
“Essentia had 12 months of work done in six months’ time,” he says.
(He also says that the Essentia is a perfect representation of Genesis design, and undoubtedly exaggerates when he comments: “We spent three months taking things away from the design: purity is a characteristic of this brand.” He adds (doesn’t subtract): “Icons are pure.”)
There is another aspect of the digital skills of the Genesis design lineup: not only are they able to create digitally but Donckerwolke says the team has the ability to “assess virtually.” That is, it isn’t necessary for them to see a milled model to determine if something looks right. “This doesn’t mean that we won’t build models for references,” he says. But these models are going to be for presentation purposes, not as design tools. That, too, helps accelerate the design development cycle.
The Genesis approach
Donckerwolke describes a continuum. On one end there is the term “athletic.” On the opposite is “elegance.” Those are the main poles. (Other terms he uses to describe Genesis design are “emotional,” “sexy” and “anti-conformist.” As for the last, there is a thorough understanding that given that Genesis is such a young automotive marque, doing what others have long been doing is not in the least bit advantageous, so they’re going to take advantage of their comparative contemporaneity (Manfred Fitzgerald, executive vice president, Global Head of the Genesis Brand: “We are fortunate because we don’t have any legacy behind us. We are starting with a blank canvas so it is up to us to paint this picture.”)
The most recent vehicle to come from the company is the G70, an entry-level luxury sport sedan. (An interesting aspect of the aforementioned “models for presentation purposes”: Albert Biermann, executive vice president of Hyundai Motor Group, who leads performance and high-performance vehicle development, who had been vice president Engineering, BMW M Automobile prior to taking his current position (the acceptance was announced in December 2014; he assumed the post in April 2015), which is based at the company’s R&D facility in Namyang, says, “The G70 has a special meaning for me. Even before I signed my contract I saw the clay model of the G70 in the European design center. I was really impressed. I could immediately see this car would stand out from the crowd and wanted to work on that car. It was an easy decision to go to Korea.”)
There are currently two other sedans in the Genesis portfolio, the top-of-the-line G90 and the G80. As the nomenclature implies, the G70 is smaller (it is 184.3 inches long, 72.8-inches wide, 55.1 inches high, and has a 111.6-inch wheelbase; by quick comparison, the G90 is 204.9-inches long and the G80 is 196.5 inches). But while these cars are part of the same family, Donckerwolke is emphatic that each of the vehicles is designed onto itself: “We won’t create any clones. We won’t do Russian dolls. The customers for each is different, so all Genesis models will have their own character.”
The G70 is a rear-wheel drive car, so they wanted to assure that the design took advantage of that: sitting well on the rear wheels is what Donckerwolke says is “the Golden Rule of Genesis design.”
But even before that rule is imposed, there is something else: “I always tell my designers that if they don’t have the proportions right, don’t start. Don’t make any lines. I’m not interested.” He adds, “Eighty-percent of the cars we see on the streets have an overkill of design elements because the proportions are wrong.”
The overhangs are short (31.7 inches in the front; 41.1 inches in the rear). The cabin is pushed back to give a greater sense of luxury and performance. Donckerwolke cites a parabolic line that sweeps across the side view of the car. The form of the DLO, which he describes as the “main architectural element on the car,” has a form they refer to as the “Pharaoh’s Eye.” He says, “Get the position of the DLO wrong, and it would be like any other car on the road,” clearly something he’s not interested in.
There is a fast-flowing roof and then a kickback. Thanks to the shape of the car—in addition to an end-to-end underbody cover, front wheel air curtains and active air flaps in the front end—the G70, with standard 18-inch alloy wheels, has a coefficient of drag of 0.28.
As for the interior design, there is again the continuum of athletic elegance, with the G70 going toward the more taut and driver-oriented. But in the cases of the three cars, there is a horizontal sweep across the IP.
For a vehicle that has an array of features and technologies, Dockerwolke talks of “the beauty of emptiness.” He explains that they don’t want various elements too close together such that they’d be competing with one another. Again, something more essential. Individual. “Details are important,” he says, and not only visually: he notes the knurling of the knobs.
Although his role in the vehicle development was focused on performance and dynamics (he speaks of the amount of high-strength steel and adhesive bonding of the new C2 platform used for the G70; he says, “The backbone of and the key element for good driving performance and safety is a very stiff body structure,” which he describes as “the most important chassis part”), Albert Biermann uses another phrase that seems to well encompass the overall design and execution of the G70: “Genesis is refined performance. Not brutal performance. Refined.”
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