Tucson Continues Hyundai’s Push for Design Variation

  • SangYup Lee, head of Hyundai’s Global Design Center, told journalists at a roundtable this week that future Hyundais can be expected to be just as distinctive-looking as the 2022 Tucson SUV is.
  • The company will prioritize visual differentiation among the products in its lineup, Lee said, saying there’ll be a “huge spectrum” of appearances.
  • The tactic seems to be working, with Hyundai sales up 20 percent in the past decade.

    Even before the debut of the Tucson, the differentiation among Hyundai’s products was becoming clear. When looking at the grille—and front end—of the Venue and Kona, the two vehicles share nearly nothing but a badge, and the same goes for the Santa Fe and Palisade. The 2022 Tucson, which Hyundai revealed earlier this week, sports a radically different design than its predecessors and other Hyundai SUVs—but don’t expect any other Hyundai vehicles to adopt that same look.

    That was the message that SangYup Lee, head of the Global Design Center at Hyundai, had for journalists at a roundtable which took place shortly after the Tucson was revealed. There wasn’t much variation in the designs across the Hyundai lineup just a few years ago, Lee said, but the automaker is moving toward having showrooms that represent a much broader range of designs.

    “We’re going to have a huge spectrum of Hyundai designs,” Lee said. “So when [a customer goes] to a Hyundai dealer, then the customer is able to see the whole spectrum of different designs, so they will be able to choose what suits their lifestyle.”

    2022 hyundai tucson revealed in full


    The design team behind the Tucson wanted it to challenge what a vehicle in this class could be, particularly as it’s an overcrowded segment, in the words of Lee. Nonetheless, the designers weren’t completely confident that this was the right way to take the Tucson, which Lee regards as having an “avant-garde” look.

    “We always questioned ourselves: Are we actually creating a product [with mainstream appeal]?” Lee said. In the beginning of a six- to seven-year life cycle of a vehicle, a car with mainstream appeal can be successful, Lee added, but he doesn’t think that would be the case toward the end of that generation, particularly in the SUV segment.

    But, as Lee noted, Hyundai would rather challenge and make a statement with its designs than have a vehicle blend into the crowd. Such a tactic has so far worked for the brand, as sales have increased over 20 percent in the past decade, according to Car Sales Base (although they did peak in 2016 at 768,057, dropping to 688,771 in 2019).

    So instead of having the front end of their vehicles unify their lineup, a typical standard among automakers such as Lexus and Chevrolet, Hyundai is looking beyond that. Lee said that smaller details—details that originated in the 45 and Prophecy concepts—will signal to the world that a given vehicle is a Hyundai, such as pixel lamps, hidden lamps seen in the Tucson, or the hidden parametric jewel pattern seen in some of their grilles.

    “Those details will make the consistency of the brand. So instead [of saying] that’s a Hyundai from 100 meters away, rather when you take a look at it, you’ll say, ‘Ah, the pixel lamp. That’s the Hyundai character,’ ” Lee said. “Brand consistency is very important in design, and we like to challenge brand consistency where no one else has challenged it before.”

    The tactic of a spectrum of appearance hasn’t turned many buyers away, and if it has, it has brought in enough buyers to the brand to make up for it. Nonetheless, the Tucson doesn’t look like a standard-issue crossover, and it remains to be seen whether customers want something this radical. As future new products adopt the styling of Hyundai’s 45 and Prophecy concepts, the designs seen in the Hyundai showrooms could become increasingly polarizing.

    It’s a risk Hyundai isn’t afraid of taking, but it’s still a risk.

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