Bentley’s Lee said South Koreans are also playing catch-up with developed car markets as they lacked a “car culture.”
The 44-year-old said that, unlike some of his peers today, his family did not have “a big garage full of hot-rod cars.” Similarly, Kim at Opel, the son of a rice miller, said he rarely saw cars on the streets of Buan when he was growing up.
From the age of 12, Sangyup Lee attended “art cram school” in the evenings in Seoul, determined to gain entry to Hongik University, a leading art school. He went on to study sculpture at Hongik and then car design at Art Center, before joining GM in 1999 after a stint at Porsche and Pininfarina, an independent Italian design studio.
“We don’t have a strong automotive tradition in Korea, so most of us are very hungry and willing to work hard” to gain the knowledge and expertise in car design, Lee said. “That makes us flexible and versatile.”
The biggest challenge for South Korean designers now is consistency, moving from one-off hits to developing a lasting legacy that is “the definition of good designers,” Patrick le Quement, Renault’s design chief who retired in 2009 after 22 years, said in an e-mail exchange.
“Design is like F1 racing, it’s good to win a race, but it doesn’t mean you’ll become world champion. There are drivers who made a habit of winning and those that won occasionally, for lack of talent, concentration and dedication,” he said.
“I’m very impressed by the overall quality of young [South] Korean designers. Consistency is the sign of real talent,” he said.