Peter Schreyer has now headed new car design at Kia for 10 years, a period during which the brand's global sales have risen from around 1.1m cars in 2005 to 3.05m in 2015.

Schreyer joined Kia in 2006 as chief design officer and is now president and chief design officer of Kia Motors Corporation.

Establishing Kia's new image

Kia had been making improvements for a number of years up to 2006. The brand introduced the new Slovakia-built Cee'd and its unique seven-year, 150,000km warranty to Europe in the same year and expanded its global manufacturing capabilities as new models entered production.

Schreyer said: "When I started, it was important that we established an identity and a consistent feeling across the brand. But the story of how our new vehicles came to life is about so much more than just aesthetics. It involves intricate choices in how complex ideas work together to create something that generates an emotional response."

In the following years, this resulted in the establishment of a consistent design DNA across the growing model line-up, with recognisable signature elements featured in a number of new designs.

'Korean Cool': the inspiration behind the designs

As Kia has transformed its model range, the proliferation of Korean culture around the world – K-Pop, 'Gangnam Style', modern architecture in Kia's own Korean domestic market, and the appreciation of Korean art – has helped inspire Schreyer and his design teams.

"For designers, it's important to not only look at cars, but to be interested in architecture, art, music, industrial design…all sorts of things. They are influencing us and we are influencing them. People now know more about Korea, and about what's going on there. On the one hand you have this 'heartbeat' when you go to Seoul, and on the other hand you have the silence, the concentration. Both of these things inspire me and our designers.

"We have this treasure where we can find inspiration in art, and simplicity – the luxury of empty space and surfaces. It's very simple but it's done with a lot of diligence and concentration."

Schreyer's design philosophy is borne out of this Korean inspiration: 'the simplicity of the straight line' which characterises every one of the designs he has overseen. The growth of a truly global network of designers has led to different interpretations of this approach, with design centres now established in California in the US, Frankfurt in Germany, and at the company's Namyang R&D centre in Korea.

Changing perceptions of the brand

The 2010 Optima, one of the first models to be designed entirely under the direction of Peter Schreyer, is seen today as the catalyst for the recent design-led transformation of the product range. As well as offering new technology and greater refinement than its predecessors, the Optima's design added depth to the model line-up and fundamentally changed the way people saw the brand in markets all around the globe. The newest generation Optima, launched earlier this year, also retains this unique personality.

In addition to the Optima, and every production model since, Schreyer has also directed the creation of a number of design concepts, exploring and pushing the boundaries of design capabilities. Concepts such as the 2012 Track'ster, 2014 GT4 Stinger and 2010 Ray have shown an exciting vision of future designs and have helped establish greater depth and a global outlook to Kia design as a whole.

Design highlights

Schreyer's favourite designs from recent years include the Soul which "changed the brand" with its stand-out looks and cool, alternative image; and the new Optima Sportswagon, a true "European lifestyle car" due on sale across Europe later this year.

The stunning, "forward thinking" GT Concept was launched at the Frankfurt show in 2011 and suggested what a four-door sports sedan from the company could look like.

The GT Concept also happens to be Schreyer's favourite design of all: "You know when you have more than one kid, you can never say which your favourite is. You love them all. I also do, with all the cars I've designed, but there is one that stands out a little bit, I must admit. The GT Concept was a dream project for me and our designers because we got the chance to make a real GT, a car where you can travel in style."

The future

Design has played a key role in transforming the perception of the brand and its products over the last few years – and the company will continue with this design-led approach for many years yet. New launches in new segments over the coming years, and the ongoing rebirth of new model generations, mean that design will continue to be at the heart of the company's success in future.
Schreyer said: "What really excites me is how fast this company is evolving. The brand as you knew it 10 or even five years ago is gone. You can see it in even the smallest detail. You can feel it in the sophisticated textures and materials. And you experience it in ways that are inter-related and connected. As we move forward, it's important that change is an improvement and not just for the sake of looking different."