Kia Motors thought they'd scored a big coup about three years ago when they hired designer Peter Schreyer away from the Volkswagen Group.
He had worked at Audi for more than 25 years and created the original Audi TT and the Audi A6, which are still regarded as some of the best automotive designs in recent years. He was headhunted to lead Kia's global design operation, supervising the company's regional design centres in Frankfurt, Los Angeles and Tokyo, as well as in South Korea.
I met him at the Frankfurt Motor Show, which wrapped up last weekend, standing in front of the all-new 2011 Kia Sorento.
The drab, old Sorento has been around basically unchanged since 2003. It is a boxy, smallish, truck-based SUV with the tackiest interior imaginable. The new one is a stylish seven-seat crossover that will be the first Kia vehicle to be built in North America as it rolls out of a new $1.2-billion manufacturing facility in West Point, Ga.
Vaughan: Peter, that looks like an Audi behind you.
Schreyer: I'll take this as a compliment.
This is the new Sorento and it is the first car that has been under my full guidance from the first model to the final car since I joined the company. I think it has a kind of European flair to it - a European flavour.
Has it been difficult after a couple of decades at a luxury brand like Audi to move to what has been a struggling [South]Korean brand at the lower end of the market?
I think it's a challenge and an interesting job.
Audi came a long way as well. When I first started there, Audi was in a similar kind of situation with a not very attractive product. Little by little, month by month, year by year we are building up a brand and an identity.
You also worked at Volkswagen and you've said the Kia Soul is like the Volkswagen New Beetle. Please explain.
Well, I think the Soul has a different character than all the other cars in the Kia product range.
In a positive way, it's like the black sheep of the family. It's a bit different. It has a very unique character in itself. So it has an iconic value to it and it will do a lot of good for Kia.
People will look at it and they will get attracted to the brand.
Let's talk about the Koreans and the Korean culture - it's very different from what you were used to.
Mentality-wise, there is a big difference. There is both a different kind of culture and a different kind of car culture.
Are you adjusting?
I think it's more interesting the more I learn about it. You can never say which culture is right or which is the one best way.
The Koreans are very impatient. They're in a hurry and they work incredibly hard. And they fire people regularly.
They are ambitious.
Considering that there was no Korean car industry a few decades ago and that they have come to the point - in less than 30 years - where Hyundai-Kia has 4-1/2-millions cars sold a year, it's amazing.
But they're still in a hurry for more. You're under the gun. Can you take the pressure?
I think that as a designer if you don't have the pressure, maybe you're not as effective.
I think you need a little bit of pressure.
They'll give it to you.
Yes, but still we have enough freedom.
Michael Vaughan is co-host with Jeremy Cato of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 2 p.m. on CTV.