SangYup Lee’s job is to shape the future, quite literally, by drawing cars today that will be on the road in four, five or seven years. He’s not worried about the electric revolution or the onslaught of self-driving vehicles. Quite the opposite – he sees those as incredible opportunities. What Lee is worried about is the fact his teenage daughter sees no reason to get her driver’s licence.
“All of the car industry is in danger because [of] Gen Z and Gen Y,” said SangYup Lee, head of global design for Genesis, the Korean luxury automotive brand founded in 2015. He spoke on a video call from Los Angeles, where he had just unveiled the company’s new all-electric concept car.
Recently, Lee’s daughter, who is 15, didn’t share his excitement about the fact she could soon learn to drive. Why make the effort to physically meet friends when you see them all the time online and in games, his daughter asked. “As soon as I heard this, [I thought] ‘We’re in danger,’” Lee said. Even the fastest cars seem slow compared to FaceTime’s ability to transport us instantaneously.
While millennials will soon buy more cars than their Boomer parents, cars aren’t central to popular culture like they were when hot rods and muscle cars ruled the road. The pandemic has also shown office workers they don’t need to commute by car every day. On the flip side, the pandemic has given us a new appreciation for cars as a vehicles for travel and exploration, or simply as a way to get out of the house.
It’s not easy to predict where this will put the auto industry in 10 or 15 years. For Lee, it’s clear car companies must find new ways to fit into the lives of young people. He explained that could mean being more present in virtual worlds, by using augmented reality or by becoming a mobility company, selling transportation rather than just automobiles.
“Cars have to be an extension of your mobile phone,” he said. “This is the biggest challenge that I have at the moment, because I have to forget a lot of the car-design lessons learned throughout my 25-year career.”
Figuring out how to make young people like cars isn’t his only challenge at the moment.
In the more immediate future, Genesis must focus on luring customers away from established luxury automakers. That’s what the new Genesis X concept Lee unveiled in Los Angeles is for. He hopes it could become a halo product for the brand.
It’s been a slow uphill battle for Genesis so far, with annual sales in Canada never having topped 1,600 vehicles, according to data from CarFigures. Pandemic aside, sales have been trending up, and the brand finally has its first SUV (the GV80) on sale and a second (the GV70) arriving later this year.
“Every luxury brand has an icon,” Lee said. The Genesis X concept could be theirs. It’s a gorgeous, imposing all-electric 2+2 coupe, which, he explained, distills the brand’s design DNA into a single car. It incorporates all of the unique design signatures Lee and his team have developed since the brand’s inception. The two horizontal lines of light that streak around the car will become to Genesis what the swoosh is to Nike or the curvy bottle is to Coke, he said.
The concept car avoids the many bad design trends that have become pet peeves of his. New cars, he said, are often cluttered with too many lines and busy details. “Do we really have to decorate the vent with chrome?” Lee asked rhetorically. (Mercedes, we’re looking at you.)
Over-stylized designs also age poorly, and that ultimately hurts new-car owners. Since cars lose 20 per cent of their value once you drive them off the lot, Lee said, new cars should be something you want to keep. All else being equal, a timeless-looking car should also hold more of its value over time.
The Genesis X concept is a classically well-proportioned coupe with a long hood and sleek glasshouse. The surfaces are elegant, with only a few hard lines defining the shape.
The fact it is electric hints at an inevitable future for Genesis. The brand currently doesn’t sell any electric vehicles, but you can expect that will change soon because, as Lee explained, EVs aren’t optional for car companies anymore. “This is something we must do because the world is changing,” he said.
On whether the Genesis X concept will go into production, Lee said, “I don’t do concept cars like a la-la-land flying carpet; all of my concept cars are very serious.” He and his bosses will be closely watching the public’s reaction to the Genesis X and, presumably, whether or not teenagers take notice.