SEOUL -- Only two months into his new job as the first joint global design chief of Hyundai and Kia, Peter Schreyer is guarded about his burgeoning makeover plans.
But this much, he says, is clear: The sibling brands need more distinct identities. And that goes beyond sheet metal. They need greater differentiation in market positioning and in segmentation.
That means, he says, that Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. need fewer cars overlapping in type and function.
He cites two examples he sees as troubling: the Hyundai Santa Fe crossover and its Kia counterpart, the Sorento; and the Hyundai Elantra, known as the i30 in some markets, and the Kia Forte, which is called the Cee'd in Europe.
"A Santa Fe and a Sorento have very, very different designs," Schreyer told Automotive News during the Seoul Motor Show last month. "But the basic platform and layout is very similar. This is the case in several segments, like for example the Cee'd and the i30.
"I think we could probably make more differentiation so that the cars actually serve a different purpose. Maybe one is roomier and one is sleeker and flatter, for example," he said.
He says the upcoming shift will be a "dramatic evolution."
The vision of Hyundai Motor Group's top designer, who was promoted in January to the title of president with oversight of both brands, foreshadows a new era for the companies. Hyundai and Kia traditionally have shared powertrains, platforms and other technical underpinnings, relying on different top hats -- a term that covers exterior and interior designs that consumers see -- to set them apart.
Differentiating multiple brands is a common quandary facing many carmakers, including General Motors and Volkswagen AG. Indeed, Schreyer, 59, grappled with it often during a 26-year career as a designer at Volkswagen and Audi, where he was perhaps best known for helping design the original Audi TT.
Now the Germany-born Schreyer, who came to Kia in 2006, aims to tackle the dilemma at Hyundai-Kia.
Traditionally, the two Korean brands have diverged in image and branding. Kia was the sporty, less expensive entry brand; Hyundai was the more refined mass-market player. But in recent years, Kia has been pushing upward into Hyundai's territory. Schreyer's task will be defining those differences while staying true to the DNA of each.
Schreyer led the transformation of Kia's design by introducing the angular, sporty look epitomized by the Optima sedan and Sportage crossover. He aims to work similar magic at Hyundai.
The first Hyundai vehicles showing his direct influence will hit the market in about three years, he reckons.