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Why Do Kia Car Designs Look So Good?

Kia was traditionally a very analytical company–its culture was business. They looked at the market with the same clinical eye that made South Korea such an economic powerhouse in the 1990s.

Unfortunately, this analytical approach resulted in Kia car designs that were so bland it was difficult to distinguish them on the road.

Kia: A stock image of an ordinary car

Kia car design 2001
The 2001 Kia Sephia: Abandoned in 2002.

Kia languished because of this lack of design creativity.

In fact, Kia went bankrupt in 1997 during the Asian financial crisis. The company was jostled around for a while between Ford and Hyundai and they lost much of their identity as a brand.

Peter Schreyer Joins Kia

In 2006, Kia took back the reins and challenged their old way of doing business. In their new mission statement, design would now be the “core future growth engine.” They headhunted for design talent and hired one of the car industry’s top designers, Peter Schreyer.

Schreyer had worked for the German auto industry where he designed the groundbreaking Audi TT. He also worked on the Audi A3 and A6 and contributed to the Volkswagen Golf, Eos and to the new Beetle design.

award winning car design by Peter Schreyer, 1995 Audi TT Concept
Peter Schreyer designed the award winning Audi TT in 1995.

Schreyer came from a culture where, in his words, “everybody is a car driver, a car enthusiast. Everybody from the CEO to the little designer to the people on the production line, they want to build cars they want to drive themselves.” To Schreyer, even the average consumer should have the opportunity to drive a stylish car.

When Peter Schreyer came to Kia, he brought this European value of fashion and design with him. Schreyer’s challenge was to design a car that was priced for the consumer yet still had a stylish, luxury feel. To Schreyer, “in the past, the Kia cars were very neutral. When you saw one on the road, you didn’t really know if it was Korean or Japanese… I think it’s very important that you are able to recognize a Kia at first sight.”
Kia car design by Peter Schreyer original concept car 'Kee'
The ‘Kee’ concept car was revealed at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show. Peter Schreyer is on the far right.

Schreyer designed what he called the ‘Tiger Nose’ as the dramatic new face for the Kia brand. The Tiger Nose was to give Kia a “powerful visual signal, a seal, an identifier.” Schreyer’s first Tiger Nose concept car, called the ‘Kee’ was put on display at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show to much critical acclaim. Schreyer received an honorary doctorate from the Royal College of Art in London soon after.

Many of the older Kia models were retired. The most notable retirement was Kia’s flagship car, the Amanti (2003-2009). Schreyer introduced an entire new lineup of cars such as the Soul (2008) and Forte (2009). The remainder of the fleet was updated with the new Tiger Nose along with visually enticing curves and accents throughout the car body.

Kia Car Design by Peter Schreyer, 2013 Kia Forte
2013 Kia Forte, designed by Peter Schreyer.

Kia has since made a huge impact on the car industry by challenging the traditional idea that average consumer cars should look bland.  Other car companies have been forced to improve their designs to compete with Kia. This blurring between luxury and consumer vehicles has even forced the top end manufacturers to take action. The result has been a general improvement in car design across the board.

Kia can probably best sum up their dramatic contribution to car design themselves. In one of their commercials, they depict the Kia brand as hamsters crashing an opera, an endearing metaphor for a fledging underdog that has dramatically changed the car industry.

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