Hyundai is on a roll, scooping the plaudits left, right and centre. The Seven concept, unveiled at the LA Auto show, draws on architectural concepts, classic furniture, and is evidence of a design team brimming with confidence
The annual Automobility LA Show might not be the biggest show in the automotive calendar, but it has historically played host to many interesting concepts. And with US travel restrictions recently eased, the LA event became only the second major motorshow of 2021 that most of the world were legally able to attend, alongside Munich. Ongoing pandemic controls in China made Shanghai and Guangzhou almost completely domestic shows, effectively closed-off to non-resident Western press. As such, LA provided a great moment to meet up with designers from around the globe in person and see their latest vehicles up close. Within that North American setting, it was a surprise that the big US firms failed to deliver anything conceptually new. This left space for South Korean brands Hyundai and Kia to exploit and preview their respective large production SUVs, both of which are based on their Group’s EV-only E-GMP platform.
Jumping inside both concepts, the Kia Concept EV9 took a more conventional approach with parallel seating and a steering wheel, while Hyundai’s designers opted to showcase more future-facing ideas. Avoiding Zoom and Teams video calls entirely, Interior Motives caught up with head of Hyundai global design SangYup Lee in the the back of the Seven concept to find out more. “You know we don’t do ‘La-La Land’ concepts,” he begins with a smile, “And we’re very confident we can deliver a production vehicle similar to this in terms of the exterior ideas. The interior is all about the living space concept, and has an almost shooting brake-style with one door on the driver’s side and two doors on the passenger side, which hints at a very interesting layout. It is a bit visionary because it’s more for Level 4 autonomous driving.” Which translates to the Ioniq 7 production car looking a lot like the Seven’s exterior, while its interior is more of a marker in the sand to where the design team want to go (most of which is likely at least a couple of car generations’ away).
To delve into the nitty-gritty of how that interior concept’s design developed, we had a separate face-to-face chat with head of Hyundai Styling Group Simon Loasby and two of the interior designers JiHyeon Lee and YunJeong Hwang. Loasby explains that the project was one year in the gestation and global in reach, involving the brand’s studios in America, Europe and South Korea, but not in formal competition. “Everybody had the brief and shared ideas, and COVID almost helped a little as we couldn’t travel so much, so we became a bit more focused,” Loasby says. “In Namyang we took responsibility for the physical stuff, but as we were going to build the car in Europe we really needed them to guide the assembly, so they were really closely involved too."
"At the end of last year we held virtual reviews of exterior and interior," Loasby continues. "We would have three or four iterations of each, all built virtually, and everybody reviewed them at the same time. It was midday in South Korea, while in America it was a crazy time at night and in Europe a crazy time in the morning. The designs went through various iterations, but when we had to focus, we chose the Korean team, which had very similar ideas to what Europe and America had, so we knew we were on the right wavelength. The work from these guys had a slightly greater sense of calm, which is just what we wanted to deliver on the interior of the Seven.”
One of the sketches presented as a ‘key theme’ was the “strategy of the void” by SeongRock Jeong, inspired by architect Rem Koolhaas’ ideas on capturing the energy of spaces. These are delineated specifically in Jeong’s drawing by three circles, suggesting harmony with each other and flow around the car. The larger rear circle is framed by the U-shaped rear sofa, and the front two circles representing the front lounge chairs’ ability to swivel and rotate by 360 degrees for passenger conviviality. With further elliptical areas in the large door sections – envisioned on the concept to show where fresh air could circulate around the cabin to help the hygiene concept – the interior’s basic layout can be quickly imagined.
"The Eames chair was an influence, which you can see more from the outside, in the split of materials between the wood and cushion"
The final concept design delivered was also the most radical, according to Loasby, and was driven by where and how many doors the car should have. “As soon as we made the decision to have three doors, that fixed how we could use the space,” he says. “For a long time we had four doors, but it didn’t give us a sofa or allow for a lounge environment where four people can sit and have a conversation. The door decision was made about November 2020.”
“I wanted to make this place like a family living room where children could be,” says YunJeong Hwang, who designed the rear of the Seven’s interior. “Maybe that way we could share more and make a cosy space. The Eames chair was an influence too, which you can see more from the outside, in the split of materials between the wood and cushion.” Loasby concedes that such a concept will be hard to achieve for production and that the Ioniq 7 will have more conventional seats (possibly swiveling at the front) plus a B-pillar, and the universal island from the Ioniq 5, but he’s enthused by the Seven’s potential, and believes there will be a way to take its ideas into production eventually.
“We would have to be careful how the airbags work for crash safety - caring for the customer is right at the top of the league of important things for us, and another thing we’re looking at is how can passengers really sleep flat in a car under Level 4 autonomous crash regulations. But our job is to set the questions to engineers. If you think about airbags, they might have seemed crazy all the years ago, but they made it work. It’s a challenge and this sort of concept helps convince people as to what we should do.”
Meanwhile, JiHyeon Lee was tasked with the front of the car and created the simple full-screen dashboard structure (although its inner UX functionality was deliberately not a focus on this concept) with a slim drawer underneath and piloting duties undertaken via a single joystick, deployable from the armrest of the front driver’s seat. “When you take the traditional steering wheel and collapse it under the IP it doesn’t really make sense,” says SangYup Lee. “It’s heavy steel and eats up a lot of space, so the joystick is better for future autonomous driving. Although the Prophecy concept had two, as we develop, we realise one joystick can do everything.”
Another interesting front-end interior feature is the passenger ottoman which has loads of hidden function beyond its basic foot rest role. The top part can open to reveal a 27-inch OLED screen so passengers can watch TV or a movie on the move. Shoes can be stored in a hygienic drawer within it, or in another similar one under the rear sofa. “LG and Samsung are creating lots of domestic kitchen and living appliances and gadgets that you don’t see in Europe,” says Loasby. “This drawer is almost a standard LG product which keeps your indoor slippers at a certain temperature, sanitises them, takes any smells away and has ventilation and drainage too. I think Korea is really ahead on the topic of cleanliness.”
"Hyundai’s designers have managed to mix aesthetics and public safety concerns rather artfully"
The more you sit in the concept, the more details catch the eye. One area you really notice up close is the size and hollow nature of the huge doors, within which sit LED lanterns which light up in different colours and have an aesthetic appeal that is modern, while also hinting at vintage gas lamps in an almost steampunk way. These voids give a nod to the circular direction of airflow that will be part of the hygiene concept that Hyundai is very serious about bringing to production. As an early sketch suggests, the idea is to take the best of aircraft air-conditioning systems that refresh cabin air regularly while also using ultra-violet cleaning light technology to sterilise interior surfaces of hidden bacteria and viruses. It’s a service which could be very useful and visually reassuring – once the purple light has zapped the cabin – to customers about to board a ride-share or rental vehicle in a COVID and post-COVID world.
Also striking, but alas not ready for production yet, is the OLED-embedded panoramic roof which can display computer messages writ large, project outside vistas inside or allow video content to be consumed, all sandwiched between two polycarbonate screens. Loasby gives the optimistic but candid lowdown on its future chances: “The OLED pano roof was an experiment by us and it works so much better than I thought it would. You lose 25-30mm headroom, so that’s a penalty, but we wanted to show what ambience it can bring. We’ll have a regular glass roof on the production Ioniq 7 but LG is on it, so let’s see. We’d love to take it further into future stories, but realistically, it’s probably still a couple of generations away.”
Colour and trim is thoughtful and subtle in the Seven too. On the lounge chairs, recycled plastic oatmeal-coloured fabric manages to have a pleasingly mid-century modernist ‘bobbly’ feel while door cards are made with light-coloured recycled plaster, flecked with copper and suspended in resin. It all helps to achieve a calming and clean space, one that does feel very living-room-esque.
Then there’s sustainable bamboo veneers wrapped below the rear bench seat and floor section delineators made of naturally hygienic matt copper. All of which suggests that Hyundai’s designers have managed to mix aesthetics and public safety concerns rather artfully – and perhaps in a particularly Korean way. Either way, it’s another excellent Hyundai design, and yet more proof that its global design team is brimming with ideas, confidence, and is truly on a roll.
Chief creative officer, EVP: Luc Donckerwolke
Head of Hyundai global design, SVP: SangYup Lee
Head of Hyundai styling group, VP: Simon Loasby
Head of Hyundai interior design group, VP: HakSoo Ha
Interior design team leader: InSeop Kim
Interior designers: WooSoon Choi, Uni Lee, JiHyeon Lee, YunJeong Hwang, SeongRock Jeong
Colour and trim leader, VP: Diana Kloster
Colour and trim designers: JungIn Hong, JuHyun Ha, HaRim Lee
Project started / completed: Spring 2020 / Autumn 2021
Launch: Los Angeles / November 2021
Words: Guy Bird