Four design center heads from Hyundai Motor, Kia Motors, Renault Samsung Motors and GM Korea and three automotive experts — Global AutoNews Editor in Chief Charley Chae, Daelim University College Professor Kim Pil-soo and Hanbat National University Professor Koo Sang — picked five most important models and Business Focus compiled the chart. — ED.
1. Hyundai Pony (1976)
Hyundai Pony tops the chart, winning a vote from every single design chief and automotive expert. The Pony is Korea’s very first own vehicle model.
The late Chung Ju-yung in 1967 set up Hyundai Motor which initially assembled and sold Ford’s vehicles. After the partnership with the U.S. automaker soured in 1973, Hyundai decided to produce its own cars.
In September, Hyundai partnered with Mitsubishi Motors for technological support. The Pony used the firm’s engine and Italdesign Giugiaro led by the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro took the design job. It isn’t difficult to find a resemblance between Giugiaro’s famous first generation model of Volkswagen Golf and the Pony.
With the launch of the Pony, Korea became the second Asian country to have its own vehicle model. It sold 10,726 in the first year of the launch, occupying 43.5 percent of the domestic market.
The pony was exported to Ecuador in July 1976,
2. Kia K5 (2010)
Kia Motors had had bestselling sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and multipurpose vehicles (MPVs), but not a strong mid-size or larger sedan until not so long ago.
Youn Seon-ho, the head of Kia Design Center and senior executive vice president of Kia Motors, said that the design team was determined to make the best sedans in respective segments during the development of K5 and K7.
K5, the name for Optima abroad, won a Good Design Award in 2010 in the U.S., an iF (international Forum) Design Award in the transportation design category in 2011 in Germany, and a Red Dot Design Award in 2011 also in Germany. The K5 became the first Korean car to win the Best of the Best in the category of automobiles, transport and caravans at the last year’s Red Dot award.
Charley Chae, the editor in chief of Global Autonews, said that the K5 has shown the highest degree of completion “theoretically and emotionally” among Korean cars.
3. Kia Sportage R (2010)
Alain Lonay, the director of design at Renault Samsung Motors, called the Sportage R “the best Korean car design so far.” Chae agreed, saying that the SUV model has received highest marks from global automotive experts in the Korean automotive history.
The third-generation model of the popular SUV carried off all the important design awards along with the Kia K5 — a Good Design Award in 2010, an iF design Award in 2011, and a Red Dot Design Award in 2011.
4. Hyundai YF Sonata (2009)
The YF Sonata was automotive experts’ pick for its significance of being the first vehicle developed under Hyundai’s new design philosophy, “Fluidic Sculpture.”
For its fluid body shape, strong character lines, wingshape grill and slender headlamps — all dramatic changes the previous generation model — some domestic consumers liked it very much and some didn’t.
Oh Suk-geun, the head of the Hyundai Design Center and the senior executive vice president of Hyundai Motor Group, attributes the impressive sales of the YF Sonata abroad to the design.
Hyundai Motor America said in last year’s motor show in Detroit that 40 percent of surveyed consumers bought the Sonata for the design and another 40 percent for its fuel efficiency. The YF Sonata sold more than 200,000 in 2010 — the ceiling that Hyundai had dreamed for a long time to break through.
Oh said that Hyundai once considered developing a new mid-size sedan localized for the relatively conservative Chinese market because of the Sonata’s strong design. The Sonata turned out doing very well there, surpassing the 10,000 per month mark last September.
5. Daewoo LeMans (1986)
According to Kim Pil-soo, a professor of automotive engineering at Daelim University College, the Daewoo LeMans is Korea’s first aerodynamically designed car, which stood out from its contemporaries.
Launched in 1986, the LeMans was based on the design of German automaker Opel, manufactured in Korea and sold globally through General Motors. Some one million of LeMans were sold over 10 years and seven months. Kim Tae-wan, the head of GM Korea’s design center and vice president of GM Korea, said he prefers the hatchback model to its notchback counterpart.
6. Hyundai Santa Fe (2000)
Yoon Seon-ho of Kia Motors says that the first generation of the Santa Fe was a vehicle that designers wanted to make — the designers took a lead role in developing the vehicle. Yoon was part of the team that designed the car.
Santa Fe, Korea’s first monocoque SUV released in 2000, used the platform of the fourth-generation Sonata to win the President’s Award, the highest honor, at the government-hosted industrial design award in that year.
7. Hyundai NF Sonata (2004)
The fifth generation Sonata showed with its design and quality that Hyundai Motor began taking overseas markets very seriously. Its simple and stable design was a huge improvement from the previous generation model with many awkward curves.
The NF Sonata, launched in 2004, targeted the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord as its competitors. When Hyundai completed its Alabama plant in the U.S., NF Sonatas were produced there from May 2005.
8. Samsung SM5 (1998)
“The car demonstrated that Korea was able to produce a premium car with premium quality,” Lonay said of the
first generation of the SM5.
Launched in 1998, SM5, manufactured by Samsung Motors, shared the same base as the second generation of
Nissan Sefiro and used Nissan’s engines and auto parts. It has been recognized as a car that drivers wouldn’t get tired of its simple yet classy exterior and luxurious interior.
It is known that about 10 of special editions were manufactured back then for the top-level executives of Samsung Motors including Chairman Lee Kun-hee.
9. GM Sparks (2009)
Kim of GM Korea said that the upgrade of the Matiz to the Sparks wasn’t evolution but revolution.
The mini car was designed by Korean designers at the design center of GM Korea (then GM Daewoo). The model that succeeded the globally popular Daewoo Matiz is seen in nearly every global region — Asia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East and Africa.
The vehicle appeared in the mega-blockbuster movie Transformers as the twin autobots called Skids. The photo on the right is the Transformers special edition.
10. Hyundai Tuscani (2001)
Lonay of Renault Samsung Motors says, “Many people became aware of the Korean automotive industry for the first time through Hyundai Tuscani called Hyundai Coupe in Europe. This car has been successful worldwide and has a very positive image globally.”
Released to succeed Korea’s first sports car Hyundai Tiburon, Tuscani was exported to Europe, the U.S., Canada and Australia.
Significant others that didn’t make the list
SsangYong Musso (1993)
Kim of GM Korea picked SsangYong Musso as one of the most important SUV designs. The Musso — fitted with a Mercedes-Benz engine — was designed by Ken Greenley, a British professor at the Royal College of Art. Unlike most SUVs back then, Musso wore an aerodynamic design resembling a dolphin. It won the Auto Design Award from the Birmingham Auto Show in both 1994 and 1996.
Hyundai Tiburon (1996)
Tiburon is Korea’s first sports car. Youn of Kia Motors said that it is a car that designers wanted to make and a car whose design came out as the designers intended.
Kia Soul (2008)
Kia's design revolution started from the Soul which was the first Korean car to win the Red Dot Design Award in 2009.